Media Law Revisited
In most developing countries, poor law enforcement remains the most common concern. Besides struggling with such never-ending social evils as poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, etc., what else ails these countries is their inability to enforce law and order effectively.
A developing nation, Pakistan is no exception. Through the country has shown commendable progress in terms of legislation and policymaking pertaining to different areas and sectors, it has not been able to effectively implement the existing laws, which includes its media regulations and policies.
The book ‘Pakistani Media Law: A Comparative Study,’ written by Dr Muhammad Abrar, is the latest contribution to this important subject that has received more attention in recent years, particularly after the privatisation of electronic media in Pakistan in the early 2000s.
A PhD in Law from the University of Glasgow, U.K., Dr Mohammad Abrar is a Pakistan-based writer. He has published extensively in international scholarly journals and magazines and also has presented research papers at many international conferences. Prior to his doctorate in law, he served the Faculty of Law at the International Islamic University, Islamabad as a visiting lecturer and programme coordinator. He has also served as an advocate of the Lahore High Court, Rawalpindi Bench.
Using both primary and secondary sources, the book is purely research-based and offers comparative, descriptive, explanatory and perspective analyses on the TV broadcasting industry. Divided into nine chapters, it attempts to fill in the research gap in the field of law enforcement and regulatory supervision of electronic media in Pakistan.
The book’s first two chapters introduce the current state of media laws in the country and describe how the electronic media industry is regulated, with the key focus on the relevant legislation and its enforcement. In this section, the author gives a detailed overview of the Pakistan’s legal system in the context of the media and critically highlights the deficiencies in the enforcement mechanism.
The writer rightly points out the fact that, though Pakistan has introduced some laws to control and regulate the electronic media, it has failed to enforce the relevant regulations and has not been able to deal with a range of regulatory issues relating to terrestrial, satellite, cable, mobile TV and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV).
According to him, the President of Pakistan has the sole right to appoint people on key media posts, which in the end, turns out to be a political selection rather than appointments made purely on merit, thus severely affecting the maintenance and running of a fair system. For instance, according to the PEMRA Act, the authority consists of a chairman and 12 members,
all of whom are appointed by the President of Pakistan. Through this manner of selection, according to the author, the President has a direct influence on PEMRA’s membership and, indirectly, on the decisions taken by the authority.
Such a system of selection has loopholes in that the authority and the Council of Complaints could both be influenced by political motives. For example, the President could choose to protect the agenda of a political party to which he belongs. At this time, it is difficult for the PEMRA chairman and the authority’s members to provide fair and non-partisan enforcement system, says the author.
In addition, the authority gives its final decision against a complaint on the recommendation of the Council of Complaints, which merely serves as an administrative body bereft of any legislative significance. Moreover, despite suffering a loss owing to media piracy or other infringements, no person or organisation can go to the court directly without the prior approval of PEMRA, making the enforcement mechanism slow and lengthy.
Defined by the author as ‘key chapters of the book,’ chapter 3, 4, 5 and 6 shed light on the specific enforcement issues that are mainly related to cable-casting, satellite and terrestrial broadcasting. In these chapters the author discusses the weaknesses of the regulatory provisions and recommends some viable solutions. Referring to illegal broadcasting by cable TV operators, he says PEMRA allows cable operators to run their own TV channels, but they mostly telecast pirated Indian and English films, plays and songs, which is a direct infringement of copyright.
The transmission of illegal satellite programmes by cable operators continues unabated regardless of repeated warnings issued by PEMRA. The author also raises some valid questions about the process of granting a licence that helps operators to create a monopoly. Unregistered TV channels, unauthorised programmes and advertisements, as well as unauthorised cable TV access are the leading enforcement issues that have yet to be addressed, according to the writer.
Chapter 4 highlights financing issues in public service media, which is provided unjustified financial benefits by the government merely on cultural and social grounds. In most countries, such as Germany, Jamaica and Estonia, their public sector media do not depend on government funds and directly generate money by selling airtime to the private sector or by collecting fees from private broadcasters. The public media in Pakistan should be given protection for adequate, predictable and independent mechanisms of financing.
With reference to other countries, chapter 5 of the book delineates both the existing and prospective challenges posed to digital broadcasting, namely mobile TV and IPTV. It also explores the legal implications of emerging technologies and their impact on media regulatory authorities.
Chapter 6 discusses some key issues that are related to sports broadcasting and state aid that is provided to the public sector, with special reference to the anti-siphoning laws. It says there is no competition between the private and the public media, which tends to be a direct result of state aid generously granted to Pakistan Television (PTV), a public sector TV channel that is owned by the government. The aid helps PTV to hold a dominant position in comparison with private TV channels, restricting fair competition in the market.
Chapter 7 focuses on the development of media technology internationally and explores the legal framework followed in different countries pertaining to the protection of rights in TV broadcasting. The chapter discusses various international agreements, such as the 1961 Rome Convention, the 1974 Brussels Satellite Convention, the 1986 Berne Convention, the 1994 Agreement of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), as well as the 2002 WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.
Chapter 8 highlights current initiatives being pursued internationally for broadcasting development. It examines how new agreements are implemented globally. Chapter 9 is the concluding section of the book and sets out numerous recommendations in relation to media law enforcement and regulation of TV broadcasting in Pakistan. Despite the presence of media laws, as per the key findings of the book, PEMRA has been facing numerous enforcement issues, while there is a consensus that enforcement in the TV broadcasting sector is at a low ebb.
The book recommends the removal of regulations that restrict judicial procedures (e.g., Section 34 of the PEMRA 2007 Act), proposing a robust regulatory framework for improving the enforcement of media laws. To resolve media disputes and complaints, a special media court must be established in place of such powerless administrative bodies as PEMRA’s Council of Complaints, the author writes.
A must-read for journalists and media professionals, ‘Pakistani Media Law: A Comparative Study’ by Dr Muhammad Abrar is a valuable addition to literature available pertaining to laws for electronic media and effectively determines how electronic media and TV broadcasting can be regulated and laws enforced more effectively.
Published by the Oxford University Press (OUP), Pakistan, the book is in hardback. Considering the significance of scholarly materials produced on such rarely-discussed subjects, such books should be available at prices lower than the PKR. 995 at which this book is priced.
When it comes to books of general interest, the OUP needs to reconsider its pricing structure, as it is already generating substantial revenue from publishing school books and curriculum-based material in large quantities every year.
It is also worth noting that the book concerns itself with television broadcasting only and does not take into account other media, such as print and radio. Perhaps the writer has kept these areas for future books.
The writer rightly points out that though Pakistan has introduced some laws to control and regulate electronic media, it has failed to enforce the relevant regulations.