Independent Media, admittedly, is sine quo non for any civilized democratic society. It plays a pivotal role in revitalizing people’s potential and inculcating in them awareness about their rights and duties as responsible citizens of the state. In the modern world, media has played a key role in highlighting the issues faced by the masses, concertedly inviting Governments’ attention to address these issues. Over the years transformation of the world into a global village owes much to advancement of various forms of media and tremendous development in the means of communications.
Pakistan being a democratic and pluralist society has one of the most vibrant media landscapes, which has grown enormously in terms of scale and influence, disseminating news and views 24/7. Media has carved a new niche in affairs of the state, and gained a position of strength from where it effectively guards its independence. It would be fair to say that Pakistan is one of the freest states as far as the independence of media is concerned. However, it is highly unfortunate that some elements in the national and international media are showing an irresistible propensity to portray a dismal picture of the state of media in Pakistan, in complete disregard of the ground realities, relying on their biases and pre-conceived notions. The target of their opprobrium usually are the state institutions.
There is absolutely no justification for levelling accusations on any institution without credible evidence. Individual incidents do happen everywhere in the World and Pakistan is no exception. In case if any one feels that something wrong has been done he or she can seek redress to the grievances and complaints through appropriate forums instead of generalising the issue and indulging in mudslinging and maligning the state institutions.
Pakistan has about 43 international Channels, 112 local private Channels, 258 FM Channels and 1569 print publications operating in country. The presence of such a huge mass media in itself is an irrefutable evidence of the power, influence and independence of media which adequately negates the notion of intimidation and suppression of the freedom of expression. It would be pertinent to mention that the incidents of attacks on journalists which are usually exploited to denigrate the state institutions, have reduced after the present democratic dispensation assumed responsibilities under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
I feel proud to reiterate that the PTI Government firmly believes in the fundamental and democratic right of freedom of expression as enshrined in Articles 9 and 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, guaranteeing the freedom of press subject to reasonable restrictions. The adherence to independence of media also stems from our unshakable commitment and belief that free media is the foundation of any progressive society. Let me also assert that there is no concept of an unbridled freedom of expression anywhere in the world. All the ethical and professional guidelines adopted by the media representative bodies throughout the world including the International Federation of Journalists do emphasize the concept of responsibility as also enshrined in the Social Responsibility Theory.
The present Government is taking all possible measures to create an enabling environment for the journalists to perform their obligations in consonance with their professional ethos. The steps taken in this regard include: announcement of ‘The 8th Wage Board Award’; Promulgation of ‘Right of Access to Information Act’ and establishment of the Information Commission. Journalist Protection Bill which envisages protection of the rights of the journalists, their professional training and insurance has already been approved by the Cabinet which hopefully would go a long way in further improving the working environment for the media. The bill provides for the establishment of Commission for Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals that shall include members from Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and National Press Club (NPC) and Representatives from Ministry of Human Rights and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The proposed legislation empowers the Commission to probe into the complaints lodged by the journalists regarding threats, acts of torture, violent attacks, arbitrary arrest, detention and harassment and redress them. The Commission will also have the power to provide compensation to the journalists in eligible cases from the relevant federal and provincial funds.
The Government is also contemplating to accommodate working journalists in the Prime Minister’s Housing Scheme besides awarding them health cards to avail health care facilities for themselves and their families. Here, I would also like to rebut and dispel false impression about the proposed PMDA (Pakistan Media Development Authority) concept. The media communication environment is rapidly changing the delivery mechanisms, viewing habits and business models are all evolving. Launching over-the-top (OTT) and Video on Demand (VOD) services opens an entire world of opportunities for consumers, content generators/producers. As these content delivery systems have gained popularity, the time to act is now. Market experts are predicting OTT’s global market is set to grow to $332 billion by 2025.
So Pakistan being one of the biggest digital media and information communication technologies (ICT) markets, must take advantage of the huge potential in the sector as it cannot afford to lag behind in such a competitive atmosphere. It is highly unfortunate that some elements in the media are exhibiting a knee jerk reaction to this envisaged step by creating unnecessary hype and out rightly rejecting an innovative proposal being envisaged for the development, growth and facilitation of the media, without condescending to even reading it thoroughly.
The concept of PMDA aims at development of media and not its policing and regulation as being propagated. There will be no government functionary in public complaint councils and media tribunals. This new framework will ensure ease of doing business and enable affordable and quality services to the citizens. Furthermore, the concept paper offers a robust framework based on best international practices for development of all forms of media, having competition, plurality of voices, diversity of opinions, analyses and programs for informing, educating, entertaining and empowering citizens through free access to information, entertainment and education. Our aim is to create Pakistan as a major global centre for multimedia information and content services. We want to do away with outdated laws and bring a simple, single law in line with the requirements of the modern age, focusing on facilitation for both the media platforms and citizens.
The media in any society has to exhibit a sense of responsibility while enjoying its freedom. Therefore, I would like to urge media in Pakistan to keep the national and state interests above everything else and as a fourth pillar of the state play its due role in promoting the national heritage and culture of the country and contribute to strengthening the democratic norms in the society. In view of challenges thrown up by the hybrid warfare, the focus of the media must be on concerted efforts to consolidate national unity rather than promoting polarization and fissiparous tendencies. By the same token, neutralizing the unjustified propaganda against the state institutions by certain international media and organizations, in my estimation, is also an obligation of the domestic media.
Let me conclude by saying that the Government under the guidance of Prime Minister Imran Khan will continue to facilitate the growth of media in Pakistan and persist with its efforts to take all possible measures to ensure the safety and security of working journalists and media workers.