Media Policy and PEMRA: Comparisons with UK and USA

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By

Hamid Raza Khan[1]

Abstract

(Electronic media in Pakistan has registered a tremendous growth over the last one decade after the liberalization of airwaves by the military government of General Pervez Musharraf. The growth in the broadcast sector was facilitated, overseen and regulated by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) which was established on 1 March 2002 “to improve the standards of information, education and entertainment; enlarge the viewers’ choices in the media; facilitate the devolution of responsibility and power to the grassroots by improving the access of the people to mass media; and ensure accountability, transparency and good governance by optimizing the free flow of information” (PEMRA, 2014).

This study charts the emergence of PEMRA as the first regulator in the South Asian region and maps its performance in rolling out new licences for the establishment of television channels and FM radio stations. It reflects on the factors that have contributed to PEMRA’s inability to deliver as a regulator of electronic media. Much of the criticism is directed at the Authority for its lack of neutrality, being an “appendix of the government”, its archaic laws and their uneven application in a way that the country’s electronic media continues to take advantage of a weak regulator and indulge in practices inimical to healthy competition, and promotion of plurality and public interest.

Apparently, PEMRA’s weakness stems from its laws which are insufficient, inadequate and unclear on how to deal with the challenges of a fast-changing convergent media. In addition, despite the congruence between broadcast media and telecommunication, PEMRA only regulates the electronic media while the telecom sector comes under the purview of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). This, in turn, has led to a myriad of problems. In this regard, the Office of Communication (Ofcom) of UK and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the US are presented as examples of regulatory bodies that have successfully negotiated the challenges posed by the convergence of technology despite the difficulties spawned by the growing influence of neo-liberalism on policy-making in different countries.

An effort has also been made in this paper to survey the conceptualization and adoption of various government approaches towards the media in Pakistan with a view to understanding the rationale behind the establishment of PEMRA and the subsequent patterns of public policy that have emerged vis-à-vis a growing and robust electronic media. A comparison of PEMRA laws with those of its counterparts in the UK and the US not only exposes gaps in the regulatory framework in place in Pakistan, but also underlines how a media regulator must keep pace with the shifting dynamics of a fast-changing convergent media by ensuring a healthy environment which allows fair competition, promotion of diversity and pluralism and, simultaneously, protects and promotes public interest. – Author)

1. Introduction

National states adopt a broad range of administrative measures and tools to structure, regulate and shape their media and communication systems. In western democracies such as the UK and USA, media policies are conceived as national projects aimed at promoting basic freedoms, public interest, pluralism and diversity. The values of justice, equality, solidarity, independence and accountability are also incorporated in media policies of these countries to promote credible public service, citizenship and social welfare.

Media policy has long been a neglected area within the academic discourse in Pakistan. Although certain aspects of the media regulatory regime enforced in Pakistan have been studied and analysed with regard to their impact on media in a given time and framework, an analysis of the media framework in comparison with regulatory regimes in other countries, particularly in the UK and US, has generally been neglected. This study is aimed at filling this gap.

Media and communication policy in Pakistan is framed and enforced through PEMRA which was set up in 2002 when the country’s electronic media was in its nascent stage. However, PEMRA has received considerable criticism in recent years for its inability to adapt itself to the shifting dynamics of an ever-changing electronic media. The Authority is believed to have been overtaken by developments in the broadcast sector. Its regulations are considered to be archaic and outdated and deserving an urgent overhaul through expert reforms to realize its goals of enlarging the viewers’ choices and ensuring accountability, transparency and good governance by optimizing the free flow of information.

Using a variety of micro and macro perspectives and the technique of comparative analysis drawing on textual analysis of secondary data and a broad range of academic sources, this study seeks to draw similarities and differences in the way media and communication policies have been framed and enforced in Pakistan, the UK and USA. In doing so, an attempt is made to understand what factors shape the media policy and how it operates in contemporary democracies. Consequently, through an understanding of the dynamics, sub-goals and ultimate goals that shape the media policy frameworks in UK and USA, a set of recommendations are proposed to harmonise the media policy and regulatory framework in Pakistan in order to further maximise the nation’s output to achieve broader goals of public policy, welfare, prosperity and diversity.

2. Contextualizing Media Policy

The role of communication media has always been of prime concern in a society. However, its significance has increased manifold after the advent of information & communication technologies which have transformed societies. Today, as the technologies of telephone, computer, radio and television are converging and giving rise to the digital era of the Internet, a parallel activity involving the governments, citizens, consumers, companies and various political and religious organizations is also afoot to manage and control the social and economic impact of these technological changes. This urgency to manage the impact of new communication technologies is driven in part by the understanding of how these technologies are producing cultural commodities which can be ultimately bought and sold. This has also led to a growing tension between the market freedoms which allow us the right to trade cultural commodities and communicative freedoms which ensure the right to free exchange of ideas and the expression of cultural identity (Harvey S., 2002).

2.1. Media Policy through the Ages

Nation states have always been cognizant of the power of the media to influence minds and shape collective thinking in a society. This has led the former to use different ways and means to exercise some degree of control on the media to protect public interest from falling victim to uninhibited commercialism. As the advent of electric telegraph in the mid-19th century and the subsequent rise of ‘postindustrial’ and ‘information’ societies in the 20th century transformed the media, the governments also reconsidered and readjusted their policies to work with the media.

According to Jan van Cuilenburg and Denis McQuail (2003), the evolution of communications and media policy is marked by three paradigmatic phases. These consecutive phases are labeled by the writers as (I) the phase of emerging communications industry policy, (II) the phase of public service media policy, and (III) the phase of a new communications policy paradigm. The first phase that continued until the Second World War was marked by “reasons of state interest and financial corporate benefits”. During the second phase that lasted until 1980/90, the “ideal of public service broadcasting” was pursued actively, particularly in Western Europe. In the third phase that started from 1980 onwards, media policy underwent significant changes due to emerging technological, economic and social trends. The governments responded to these changes with policies to break monopolies in media and privatize as much as possible. Jan van Cuilenburg and Denis McQuail argue that the new communications policy paradigm that is emerging now has affected “the political, social and economic values that shape the definition of the public interest that media and communications supposedly serve”. According to them, while public service broadcasting and universal telecommunications service are and will remain vital to the political agenda, “convergence in technology, liberalization of communication markets and information and communication abundance demand a different conceptualization of communications policy” (ibid). As such, the core principles of the emerging communications policy paradigm will now be “freedom of communication, access and control/accountability” (ibid).

2.2. Media Policy in UK and USA

The UK and the US are two leading and advanced liberal democracies. While both have a strong and powerful national media, the American media system is mostly market-driven with minimal interference by the state while the UK media follows a dual system marked by a significantly deregulated commercial television and an equally robust public service broadcasting (James Curran et al, 2009).  While Hallin and Mancini (2004) argue that the British and the American media tend to practice the liberal pluralist model that values market forces, self-regulation and strong professionalization, the evidence suggests that the neo-liberalism approach that seeks economic restructuring in every field to ensure individual responsibility, personal gain and private property is also gaining strength and its influence on the public policy covering all domains, including media, is now clearly visible in both the US and UK. Scholars like McChesney (2000), Flew (2002), McGuigan (2005) and Chakravartty and Sarikakis (2006) have investigated and recorded evidence of how neo-liberalism as a paradigm has come to dominate the media policy discourse and its practice is increasingly visible in the way the audiences are treated as consumers and knowledge has become a commodity seen as a source of expanding and enhancing commercial activity.

In the UK, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the prime public broadcaster which offers radio and television services. The corporation is funded by the licence fee and its day-to-day operations are overseen by a Royal Charter. The commercial sector is however regulated by the Office of Communications popularly known as Ofcom. Before Ofcom was set up in December 2003, following the adoption of the Communication Act 2003, the country’s media and telecom sectors were governed by five different regulators. However, as part of the reforms aimed at addressing the challenges posed by an increasingly complex and convergent media and telecommunication landscape, Ofcom was established to replace the former regulators for both the broadcasting and telecom sectors (Peter Lunt, Sonia Livingstone, 2012). As defined in the Communications Act 2003, the principal duty of Ofcom is to “further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters; and (b) to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition”. According to T Gibbons, the two key features that define the media policy and regulation in UK are the idea of universality of the broadcasting services which should be available throughout the country and should cater for all tastes and interests, and the idea of cultural responsibility which means that the media content should aim at “informing and educating the public, offering a high standard of quality, as well as entertaining them” (T Gibbons, 1998).

In the United States, policy making and regulation of broadcasting is a matter for federal law. All forms of broadcasting, including telecommunication, are regulated and controlled by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which is an independent regulatory authority overseen by the Congress. While it exercises routine administrative and enforcement powers for the sake of “public convenience, interest, or as necessity requires”, the FCC is also fully empowered to formulate policy and rules governing electronic communication. However, the Commission is denied any power of censorship since the freedom of speech is fully protected by the First Amendment and Communications Act of 1934 (Lesley Hitchens, 2006).

The mandate of the FCC includes regulation of interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable throughout the country. The Commission is mainly responsible for promoting competition, supporting the nation’s economy, encouraging the best use of the spectrum, revising media regulations to promote diversity and localism and providing leadership in strengthening the nation’s communications infrastructure. The Commission is led by five commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. One of the Commissioners is also selected by the President to serve as chairman (www.fcc.gov, 2014). However, the FCC legal framework stipulates that only three commissioners can belong to the same political party at any given time but no Commissioner is allowed to have a financial interest in any FCC-related business. All commissioners, including the chairman, have five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term (ibid).

3. Media Policy in Pakistan

In Pakistan, media policy on the lines of sectoral policies has never existed. Instead, the nation’s media policy has found expression mostly in the ways the various political and military governments have tried to control or manage the media through a host of laws and regulations. This situation continues to exist even though the electronic media has become a dominant player in shaping public policy and public life in Pakistan.

3.1. Media Policy and Evolution of Broadcasting in Pakistan

Pakistan inherited a small media industry consisting of five radio stations at the time of its independence in 1947. Organised as the Pakistan Broadcasting Service (PBC), the primary goal of the nascent electronic media was to build a strong national and religious identity given the role of Islam in the Pakistan Movement and the tragic events that had followed the partition. In 1964, PakistanTelevision (PTV) was also founded when the first television station was set up in Lahore to show case the art and culture the city possessed as being a hub of culture (Hamid Raza Khan, 2010). PTV soon became popular due to its “spontaneous, literary and experimental” programming which prompted the government to bring it under its control by buying majority shares in the corporation (Shireen Pasha, 2000). While PTV and Radio Pakistan created awareness and provided entertainment to the masses at home, the former also won hearts in neighbouring India through its popular plays and drama series (Yogesh Pawar, 1999). As PTV became popular, it started facing stricter government control, particularly on its news content with its flagship news bulletin, ‘Khabarnama’, aired at 9:00pm daily, earning the nickname ‘9 pm with one pm’ for its overarching coverage of the prime minister and his cabinet (Steven Barraclough 2001). According to Shireen Pasha (2000), this attitude led to a culture of self-censorship and reduced the media to “a genre of mediocrity, hypocrisy and degeneration” (Shireen Pasha, 2000).

The country’s broadcast policy took a new shape in the 1980’s when the then military leader General Ziaul Haq embarked upon Islamising PTV by banning airing of music and introducing the famous dupatta policy whereby female TV presenters and artistes were forced to wear an all-embracing scarf. According to Anwer Mooraj (2007), attempts were also made by government officials “to ‘Islamise’ the names of classical music ragas”. However, the worst fell on the country’s cinema when the government launched a crackdown on vulgarity and in the process forced hundreds of cinemas to close down as they were seen as promoting a culture inimical to Islamic values (Haroon Khalid, 2012: Ayesha Zee Khan, 2012: Nadeem F. Paracha, 2014). Zia’s heavy-handed and regressive policies proved the bane of Pakistani cinema which led to a major decline in the film industry’s output which dropped from 100 per year to 61 in 1980 before balancing out at around 80 per year (Susan Hayward, 2000).

During the first tenure of Benazir Bhutto’s government in the late 1980s, the then minister of state for information and broadcasting Javed Jabbar made efforts to transform “the dull and drab PTV into something exciting and relevant” but his efforts did not go far and he was removed from office (Kamal Siddiqi, 2014).  In the subsequent decade, the political governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif continued to exercise stricter control on the broadcast sector, brooking no criticism of public policy on PTV which was used mostly as a “promotional vehicle for the government of the day” (Steven Barraclough, 2001). In 1998, Pakistan was embroiled with India in the Kargil conflict which was fought, besides the hilltops in Kashmir, on the airwaves and that is where the Indian channels “squeezed out the Pakistani point of view” (Page, D. and Crawley, W. 2005). As PTV’s “wooden-faced newscasters” failed to make any impact and the increasing influence of Indian channels on Pakistani society became a serious issue, the military government of General Pervez Musharraf decided in 2002 to create a “media deterrent” to the Indian channels easily available in most parts of the country due to availability of dish antenna and cable. The then Pakistani information minister Javed Jabbar led the overall government thinking when he himself saw “an insidious aspect to the way in which, between the song and dance, Indian media seek to undermine the rationale that validates and motivates Pakistaniat” (Javed Jabbar, 2003). As such, the government set up Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA) on 1 March 2002 to “improve the standards of information, education and entertainment; enlarge the viewers’ choices in the media; facilitate the devolution of responsibility and power to the grassroots by improving the access of the people to mass media; and ensure accountability, transparency and good governance by optimizing the free flow of information” (PEMRA, 2014).

3.2. Role of PEMRA in Enforcement of Media Policy

Since its establishment in 2002, PEMRA has worked actively for the promotion of the electronic media which is evident by the exponential growth of private television channels and FM radio stations in the country during the last decade. According to the Media Commission Report released in April 2014, 89 licensed TV channels, including 29 news channels, are currently operating in Pakistan with access to 15 million households or about 75 million viewers. Similarly, nearly 180 FM radio stations with access to 78 million listeners have also sprung up across the country. However, PEMRA’s robust role in expanding the broadcast sector has been eclipsed by its weak performance on various other fronts, particularly the enforcement of rules and regulations.  A close analysis of PEMRA laws and the performance of the Authority over the years, points to the failures on the part of the Authority to deal with the issues brought to the fore by the shifting dynamics of a fast-changing convergent media (Javed Jabbar, 2014; Jalees Hazir, 2014; Yasmeen Aftab Ali, 2013; Raza Rumi, 2014).  Critics point out many weak links in the structure and framework of PEMRA but they particularly find its laws to be archaic and inconsistent with the objective conditions that exist today (Inayatullah, 2013; Zohra Yusuf, 2013; Bina Shah, 2013; Fahd Husain, 2012; Hassan Belal Zaidi, 2014). PEMRA’s composition, consisting of a chairman and 12 members, five of them nominated directly by the President, is also a bone of contention for many as it paves way for executive interference in the affairs of the Authority. It also does not possess an effective complaint, redress and enforcement mechanism to implement its decisions. This allows the erring channels to challenge PEMRA’s decisions in the courts and get stay orders for an indefinite time. Currently, as many as 281 cases involving PEMRA are pending in the courts and gathering dust for years. In the absence of effective laws, news channels have also resorted to cross-media ownership to drive out weaker players from the market. The situation calls for the introduction of the Significant Market Player (SMP) concept, enforced by PTA in the telecom sector, to ensure pluralistic media affording equal opportunities of growth to all players. The Authority has also done little to bring the media players to agree on a uniform code of ethics. It has also failed to introduce the promised Direct-to-Home (DTH) service and nothing has been done so far for moving TV content from analogue to digital technology, as was done in Europe in 2007. In recent years, PEMRA has also come under fire for failing to devise SOPs for regulating the breaking-news culture of instant updates and information in crisis situations. Other weaknesses of the Authority include its inability to regulate the state-owned PTV and apply its rules uniformly to all players. TV channels have used this laxity from PEMRA to resort to vulgarity and excessive exhibition of foreign content in addition to unbridled advertising well beyond the allowed limits. PEMRA has also done little to stop the media from unwarranted criticism of the judiciary and security institutions. It has also failed to stem the rise of televangelism and the cult of religious personalities that are fanning intolerance and confusion in society. Indeed, the Authority is grossly ill-equipped to deal with the dynamics of a fast-changing media and the challenges it is set to face in the future (Muhammad Aftab Alam, 2014).

3.3. Pakistan’s Media Policy in Comparison with UK

In the UK, the implementation of media policy falls in the domain of Office of Communications (Ofcom) which was set up in 2003, a year after PEMRA was established in March 2002 in Pakistan. While PEMRA only regulates the electronic media, leaving the telecom sector to PTA, Ofcom regulates both the broadcast media and the telecom sector besides the postal services and the airwaves over which wireless devices operate. While PEMRA seeks to improve the standard of education and information and enlarge viewers choices, the primary goal of Ofcom is to further the interests of the UK citizens in relation to communication matters as set out in section 3(1) of the Communications Act 2003. However, even 12 years after it was created, PEMRA has failed to launch DTH and introduce digital services as pledged in its framework to enlarge viewers’ choices. Ofcom, on the other hand, has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring availability, accessibility and affordability by revolutionizing the telecom and communication services with landline telephone now having almost 100 per cent coverage, broadband services having penetrated 78% of the population, mobile phone services having achieved 99% area coverage while simultaneously successfully rolling out DTH services following a digital switchover (almost 98.5 per cent households able to watch at least 20 channels free of cost) (Office of Communications, 2014). In terms of affordability, the average cost of broadband services in UK also decreased by 48% between 2004 and 2012, while the average cost on mobile and landline services also dropped by 23% and 28% respectively (ibid).

Keeping the interest of UK citizens in mind, Ofcom is also evident in the media and postal sectors where the Authority launched an investigation against the 168-year-old newspaper The News of the World after its involvement in the phone hacking scandal as a result of which the paper had to close down to escape public opprobrium. Furthermore, the cost of ordinary, second-class mail in UK has been capped by Ofcom so that ordinary citizens continue to afford a basic postal service (ibid).  In addition, UK’s media policy is geared towards supporting public service broadcasting, whereas the media policy in Pakistan has no stated goal to strengthen and sustain public service broadcasting. In the UK, BBC can air an inter-collegiate quiz show, hosted by a highly-paid veteran like Jeremy Paxman, at peak viewing time, but in Pakistan, TV channels compete with their own political chat shows in prime time slots, transforming politics into a blood sport (Irfan Husain, 2014).

In the UK, the state and the public weigh as the main stakeholders in media policy but media policy in Pakistan restricts freedom of expression while focusing on serving vested interests of the ruling and political elites as well as market forces. Unlike Ofcom which is considerably free of government control and its efforts are geared towards maximizing democratic output, PEMRA has earned the title of being an “appendix of the government” for the way it leverages and favours chosen media groups and punishes others for going against the stated government line. Until 2007, cross-media ownership was outlawed in Pakistan but PEMRA buckled under pressure from the powerful media conglomerates and revoked the clause, allowing concentration and consolidation which is inimical to healthy competition and pluralism in media. Unlike UK, the regulatory regime in Pakistan does not have specific provisions for enhancing cultural diversity and localism and the enforcement mechanism is also weak in the case of exhibition of foreign content on local channels.

The overall framework of the media policy in UK is built on the tradition of liberal pluralism with strong characteristics of Socialist democratic and Democratic Participant theory for maximization of democratic output. As such, Ofcom regularly intervenes in the media sector to ensure positive freedom of expression and protect public interest. The media system in Pakistan is modeled on the Authoritarian Theory which allows the state to intervene only to protect the interests of the ruling and corporate elites. The same difference is visible in the nature of public sphere which the media promotes in both countries. In UK, the public sphere promoted by the media is leveraged by civil society organizations, citizenry and the democratic state to discuss critical public policy issues and make informed choices. The media therefore serves and promotes the well-being of the society in all spheres of life. In Pakistan, however, public sphere is used mostly by political and military elites, powerful business groups, religious leaders and militants who use the media to advance their own viewpoint and agenda.

Another point of divergence between the media policies of UK and Pakistan is reflected in the way their regulatory authorities are organized. While Ofcom receives government funds and the composition of its Board and Steering Committee also allows the government room for maneuvering, there is no corresponding evidence of any such act by the government. Ofcom has further weaned itself away from the government through the Broadcasting Act of 2011. PEMRA enjoys no such independence as it effectively works under the direct control of the government and its composition is also drastically manipulated by direct appointment of its members by the President. While PEMRA has the authority to raid the premises of a television channel and confiscate the broadcast equipment in case of violation of its codes, it has to report to the government and abide by whatever instruction the government passes to it.

3.4. Pakistan’s Media Policy in Comparison with the US

Although media policies in both UK and USA share many similarities, there are also significant “differences due to differences between their respective media and political systems” (Freedman, 2008). The media system in the US follows the libertarian outlook allowing for minimal government intervention in the day-to-day operations of the media and letting the market dictate the general media output. Like Ofcom in UK and unlike PEMRA in Pakistan, the FCC regulates both the telecom and the broadcast sectors. As is increasingly evident in Pakistan where PEMRA glosses over violations of its rules and laws by the television channels and cable operators, the FCC in US also resorts to minimal interference or regulation, allowing the market to determine for itself what is suited to the public interest. This is in contrast with the media policy in UK where the regulator Ofcom routinely intervenes in the market to uphold the public interest and ensure fair-play and healthy competition in the market. However, there are certain areas such as depiction of nudity or criticism of the war on terror where the FCC and the Administration have stood up to industry pressure (Freedman, 2008).

The three key areas of regulation that FCC particularly strives to oversee are: 1) indecency which is exhibition of any content deemed to be running counter to contemporary community standards, 2) advertising which must not exceed its stipulated limit (10.5 minutes per hour on weekdays and 12 minutes per hour at weekends), and 3) children’s programming for which all channels are required to devote three hours of programming per week with the selection of content left to the broadcasters. In Pakistan, however, laws with regard to the extent of advertising allowed per hour exist but their application remains elusive. Similarly, PEMRA’s laws are vague as to what constitutes obscenity and the situation continues to persist despite an order of the country’s apex court to PEMRA to define what it meant by obscenity (Huma Yusuf, 2012). The Authority responded by convening a meeting of religious leaders and media experts to suggest a definition of obscenity but the meeting remained inconclusive. Similarly, PEMRA has no specific laws which prescribe any limit of children’s programming as being binding on the television channels and the matter has been left entirely to the discretion of broadcasters.

Similarly, unlike UK where public broadcasting has been accorded priority, the media system in the US follows the market model driven by race for profits and ratings. In this regard, media policies in both Pakistan and the US share similarities as they both cater to the market dynamics and the goals of social responsibility, education and public good have been compromised in the race for ratings, entertainment and consumerism. In the US, privatization, mergers, acquisitions and media consolidation are the norm while PEMRA has also been accused of promoting a culture of media monopolies and concentration of media ownership, particularly after it allowed cross-media ownership in 2007 (Azmat Rasul, Stephen McDowell, 2012).  However, while media houses in the US have strong ingress in the Congress where they successfully lobby for and protect their commercial interests, they have also faced stiff opposition from civil society, intelligentsia and academics who “were able to stop the FCC from relaxing media ownership rules in a way that the FCC certainly would have if left to its own druthers” (Laura Stein and Amit Schejter, 2009).  In Pakistan, the civil society is not as vocal as its counterpart in the US to influence rule-making at PEMRA to protect the public interest and ensure a healthy competition in the market.

In the US, Federal Communications Commission adopts rules after following a “notice and comment” process whereby  public input is sought and considered while adopting or modifying rules on a particular subject. PEMRA, on the other hand, consults stakeholders, mostly in the industry with no proper representation from the public and the input received is rarely considered because the will of the government routinely directs the course of rule-making as was evident in the removal of the Cross-Media Ownership clause following pressure from power media conglomerates wanting to expand their operations to drive out the small fries from the market. Unlike PEMRA, the FCC is also assisted by a number of advisory committees to shoulder its responsibilities. The Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council’s (CSRIC) is the advisory committee that provides recommendations to the FCC on a broad range of issues concerning communications systems, including telecom, media, and public safety. Like the UK, the US has also moved from analogue to digital but Pakistan’s broadcast continues to use analogue technology with no plans in the foreseeable future for the rollout of digital services.

4. Conclusion

The broadcast sector in Pakistan had been spearheaded, until a decade ago, by public broadcasting led by PTV and Radio Pakistan. As such, media policy-making was reduced to the level of media management. However, the advent of private electronic media and the mushrooming of television channels, particularly in the area of news, current affairs and religious programming, as well as the convergence of media technologies, have spawned serious challenges to the country’s media policy. While PEMRA was established in 2002 and its regulatory framework was considered sufficient to deal with a small media sector, the growth of the sector in subsequent years has exposed the inadequacy of PEMRA laws to deal with the challenges it faces (Muhammad Aftab Alam, 2014).

Countries like the US and UK have successfully negotiated many of the challenges brought on by fast-changing and convergent media technologies through enabling dynamic regulatory regimes. The policy makers in Pakistan need to realize that PEMRA has been overtaken by developments in the limited broadcast sector it regulates. The regulations it exercises are outdated and require an urgent overhaul through expert reforms keeping in view the country’s complex socio-political systems and infrastructure development as well as the best regulatory practices, particularly those followed and implemented in the UK and USA.

There is also a need to strengthen public broadcasters in Pakistan as UK has done with BBC, and provide them with sufficient resources so that they can compete with private media and play their due role in promoting democratic output through programming geared towards the public good instead of being a commercial commodity. The regulatory regime in Pakistan must also be dynamic and forward-looking and it should demonstrate a willingness as well as ability to intervene in the market to ensure best possible media output in the interest of the market as well as the general public.

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Zohra Yusuf, “Towards media reforms?”, Dawn, 29 July 2013


The author is a civil servant currently heading the public relations department of a public sector organization.