The seminar was organized by the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) in collaboration with German Foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung which looked into the challenges faced by the media and the issues that emerged as a result of liberalization of media industry. One of the objectives of the seminar was to come up with recommendations for making media a more responsible player and one that can help in strengthening democracy.
Former Information Minister Ms. Sherry Rehman proposed establishment of a commission for regulating the media.
“There is need for a serious and informed dialogue between the media representatives and the government for forming a commission to regulate the media,” Ms. Rehman, who also heads an Islamabad based think tank, Jinnah Institute said while speaking at a seminar on the ‘Role of Media in Pakistan’.
Ms. Rehman observed that media in Pakistan was playing an increasingly important role, but was unaccountable. “All those who hold others accountable, should themselves also be accountable,” she added.
She said that the proposed regulatory commission should serve as a private sector led neutral ombudsman comprising eminent persons and government officials. The regulator, she suggested, should then act as a mediating body between the media and the public.
Ms. Rehman maintained that she did not want policing or control of media, but better regulation.
“The media would have to re-establish its credibility and independence,” she said and added that the predicament in media was because of its, insufficient training of journalists, and inadequate human resources.
The Jinnah Institute president pointed out that number of media outlets have come up as commercial entities or their owners were using them for getting power.
Journalist and author Zahid Hussain said media was faced with three primary challenges – establishing credibility, covering the conflict and dealing with the security threat particularly from the non-state actors.
He said that freedom of media was a double edged sword that can be used to enhance awareness, but at the same time can propagate misinformation.
Mr. Hussain believed that weakening editorial control in media organizations was at the root cause of the problem.
“Freedom without responsibility becomes a burden,” he added.
Mr. Zubair Ghauri, in his presentation, said that objectivity was on decline and it was for the society and the government to perform the role of regulator.
He said that while media industry has progressed a lot, the syllabuses being taught at media schools in the country was outdated.
TV anchor Gulmeenay Sethi questioned whether the proposed regulatory framework would achieve the desired objectives.
She instead called for a debate for defining the limits of freedom of expression.
TV entrepreneur Basit Riaz Sheikh spoke about the constraints faced by the news channels that also affect their content including the political pressures, financial viability and profitability of the channel, and the television rating system.
He said that self regulation never works and even countries like the United States had strong regulatory framework for media.
Mr. Sheikh said that TV channels would have to invest in technology to remain competitive. He said viewers were losing interest in talk shows, but information was something that “still sells”.
Journalist Wajahat Khan too opposed the idea of a regulatory commission for media and said the country was already too regulated.
“The best regulation is self-regulation, or else the society should act as a regulator,” he further said.
Earlier, Executive Director CISS Amb. (retd) Ali Sarwar Naqvi said that the media has undergone immense transformation and presents a new landscape. But that, he stressed, has come with challenges. Issues like external influences, accountability, corporate interests and media-state relations, he said, need to be addressed.
The search for a code of conduct, he said, was an ongoing debate.