Media Tribunals – A New Form of Censorship?

Government to set up media tribunals

Last month, the Federal Cabinet approved the setting up of Media Tribunals in the country. According to the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, the tribunals are a replacement of PEMRA’s Council of Complaints. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) is the country’s top regulator of electronic media in the country.

The regulator performs a lot of functions. One of such functions is to act on complaints pertaining to electronic media. Moreover, complaints referred to the Press Council of Pakistan will also be taken up by these tribunals. According to the PM’s Special Assistant, the tribunals will decide on all complaints in a period of 90 days.

Why is there a Need of Media Tribunals?

The government is of the opinion that whenever PEMRA takes any action, it is criticised for acting on behalf of the government. It creates an acrimonious atmosphere between the government and the media houses. To do away with this unjust criticism, the government finds it best to set up independent media tribunals.

Furthermore, the tribunals will function under members of the country’s higher judiciary. Regarding the criticism of the tribunals, the Special Assistant believes that they are a fundamental requirement today. The tribunals will help establish the best practices in the country’s electronic media industry.

Also, the tribunals are better equipped to handle complaints of the media industry and the associated stakeholders. Moreover, the government is in no way trying to restrict the media’s freedom, according to the Special Assistant. The honourable higher judiciary is free of government influence and will reach just decisions.

Media Bodies & The Opposition Join Against the Proposal

The Special Assistant admits that critical stakeholders did not form a part of the consultation process. Also, the bill has to be passed through Parliament. The opposition is criticising the scheme and is making it clear that the bill shall not be passed. They are terming it as an attack on the freedom of the press. In addition to this, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s spokesperson Senator Musata Nawaz Khokar “the bill will die in the parliament as the opposition enjoy a majority in the Senate”.

Moreover, different media bodies are also joining hands against the government’s initiative. The Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and All Pakistan Newspapers Society and others held a meeting in Islamabad. They unanimously rejected the government’s initiative and called for taking back the proposal. If not, they will resort to protests.

Also, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) also took part in the meeting. Moreover, owners and senior representatives of media houses were also in attendance. Lastly, whether or not the government succumbs to this pressure remains unclear at the time.

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