Complaints commission for electronic media likely

ISLAMABAD: The proposed Media Complaints Commission (MCC) — an initiative of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif aimed at removing ambiguities from the code of conduct for media houses — seems like it may become an electronic media-centric body.

According to official records available with Dawn, representatives of the print media, who were invited to the first meeting convened to discuss the modalities of the proposed commission, have now been excluded.
The commission was envisioned as a platform to adjudicate public grievances against the media and to ensure effective implementation of a code of conduct for media houses.

A committee, headed by Prime Minister’s Special Assistant Irfan Siddiqui, reportedly took the decision at the request of Aslam Kazi of the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), according to the official record of the meeting.

It was pointed out at the meeting that the print media was already governed under the Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance, 2002. It was argued that a code of conduct for newspapers already existed and was being implemented through the Press Council of Pakistan.

Therefore, an earlier decision to incorporate a member each from the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors and a professional journalists’ body was rescinded.

In their place, it has been proposed that the PBA be given two more slots in the 11-member commission, bringing the total number of PBA seats to four. These members will include the PBA chairman and one representative each from entertainment channels, news channels and FM radio stations.

This decision was also supported by the law ministry. Law Secretary Zafarullah Khan was of the opinion that following the 18th Amendment, jurisdiction over matters relating to the print media had been devolved to the provinces. However, broadcasting is still exclusively a federal subject and amendments could be made in the laws governing broadcast and electronic media.

The committee has resolved to form a separate commission to deal with the issues around electronic media. The proposed commission would be chaired by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, who will either be selected by the chief justice, or picked from a shortlist of three names proposed by PBA members.

Other members may include a representative of the academia, nominated by the Higher Education Commission, and one civil society member. The chairperson of the National Commission on Status of Women, the secretaries of the ministries of information and law and the chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) will also be part of the commission.

The committee also agreed to take away the implementation function on the code of conduct from Pemra and may assign the task to the new body. The proposed commission will be primarily responsible for addressing and adjudicating on complaints filed by citizens, media organisations and the government. It will also have suo motu powers to act against code of conduct violations.

The commission is expected to be a forum to punish code of conduct violators as well. Punitive actions available to the MCC may include pre-emptive restraining orders, warnings or notices of reprimand, asking for an apology, imposition of fines and the suspension or termination of media licences, albeit as a last resort.

The Siddiqui-led committee also recommended the immediate enactment of a right to information law at the federal level as well as enactment of new laws governing social media and cyber crime laws to meet changing requirements.


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