U-turn on me­dia re­forms

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Javed Jab­bar

ONE hopes the re­cent un­for­tu­nate re­ver­sal by the Supreme Court of its pre­vi­ous po­si­tion re­gard­ing the ban on hunt­ing of the houbara bus­tard does not be­come a sig­nal for other state in­sti­tu­tions to also go into re­verse gear.

But over three months be­fore the Supreme Court to­tally changed its views on one sub­ject, the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion, Broad­cast­ing & Na­tional Her­itage on an­other sub­ject per­formed a som­er­sault. This was made the more re­mark­able be­cause the ac­ro­batic feat took place in the hal­lowed premises of the Supreme Court it­self. Re­spond­ing to a court query about the sta­tus of im­ple­men­ta­tion of rec­om­men­da­tions by the Supreme Court-ap­pointed me­dia com­mis­sion made in 2013, the min­istry sub­mit­ted a se­cond con­cise state­ment to the court in Septem­ber 2015. The se­cond state­ment, in sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant re­spects, was en­tirely op­po­site to the min­istry's po­si­tion in its own first con­cise state­ment pro­vided to the court on July 26, 2013.

To com­pound this bizarre change, there is not a sin­gle word in the se­cond state­ment to jus­tify the ra­tio­nale for the change. Brief con­tentions (each of which is fee­ble) are given in the se­cond state­ment to ex­plain the new po­si­tions be­ing taken on the rec­om­men­da­tions. But there is no ex­pla­na­tion what­so­ever about the 180-de­gree change.

Nei­ther the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion nor the rel­e­vant of­fice of the Supreme Court cir­cu­lated a copy of the se­cond con­cise state­ment to the me­dia com­mis­sion's chair­man (Jus­tice [r] Nasir As­lam Zahid) nor to its mem­ber (this writer) when the same was re­ceived by the court in Septem­ber 2015. It was only by in­ad­ver­tence that this writer, in his ca­pac­ity as a mem­ber of the Se­nate Fo­rum for Pol­icy Re­search (SFPR) was pro­vided a copy of this se­cond state­ment by the fo­rum's sec­re­tar­iat in endDe­cem­ber 2015, sub­se­quent to the fo­rum's strong en­dorse­ment of the me­dia com­mis­sion's rec­om­men­da­tions and in prepa­ra­tion for the next meet­ing of SFPR. A to­tal of about 35 rec­om­men­da­tions were made by the me­dia com­mis­sion. In its first con­cise state­ment to the court on July 26, 2013, the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion en­dorsed about 30 out of th­ese 35 rec­om­men­da­tions. Apart from be­ing rel­e­vant for po­ten­tial im­ple­men­ta­tion by the fed­eral govern­ment and the four pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments, sev­eral rec­om­men­da­tions re­quire po­ten­tial im­ple­men­ta­tion by other sec­tors eg me­dia ie PBA, APNS, CPNE, PFUJ, and ad­ver­tis­ers, ie PAS (Pak­istan Ad­ver­tis­ers' So­ci­ety), ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies, ca­ble oper­a­tors, the ju­di­ciary, ECP, civil so­ci­ety fo­rums.

For the record, im­ple­men­ta­tion has been un­der­taken by the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion in only about a hand­ful of the about 20 ma­jor rec­om­men­da­tions di­rectly rel­e­vant to the fed­eral govern­ment. Such rec­om­men­da­tions, while also be­ing rel­e­vant and their im­ple­men­ta­tion be­ing a pos­i­tive sign, are nev­er­the­less not as con­cep­tual and fun­da­men­tal as about the dozen other rec­om­men­da­tions which are of a ba­sic, struc­tural na­ture.

In seven out th­ese 12 rec­om­men­da­tions the min­istry has per­formed spec­tac­u­lar U-turns. Th­ese seven are: to ad­dress the phe­nom­e­non of tech­nol­ogy con­ver­gence, a sin­gle new min­istry af­ter merger of the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion with the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy. Cor­re­spond­ingly, a sin­gle reg­u­la­tory body af­ter the merger of Pemra and PTA. The new reg­u­la­tory body (or Pemra) be made di­rectly ac­count­able to par­lia­ment, and be au­then­ti­cally au­ton­o­mous, sep­a­rate from ex­ec­u­tive con­trol. The chair­man and mem­bers of the reg­u­la­tory body be ap­pointed af­ter con­sen­sus be­tween the heads and lead­ers of both houses of the fed­eral par­lia­ment. To con­vert PTV, PBC and APP from state-owned, govern­ment-con­trolled en­ti­ties into gen­uine pub­lic in­ter­est me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions, dis­in­vest­ment of 75pc shares to the pub­lic with a re­stric­tion of a max­i­mum of 2pc shares to be held by any sin­gle share­holder, prefer­ably through pe­ri­odic ro­ta­tion, by civil so­ci­ety fo­rums of high re­pute. To pre­vent fur­ther sat­u­ra­tion of ana­loguesys­tem-based ca­ble TV dis­tri­bu­tion with fur­ther new TV chan­nels, a tem­po­rary freeze on is­suance of new li­cences till the adop­tion of dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy­based sys­tems which can en­able dis­tri­bu­tion of hun­dreds of chan­nels. An ap­pro­pri­ate new name for the pro­posed new sin­gle min­istry.

Each of th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions was ex­plic­itly and cat­e­gor­i­cally sup­ported by the min­istry in July 2013. Whereas in Septem­ber 2015 each of the above has been op­posed ! In five other in­stances, the se­cond con­cise state­ment per­forms zigzag turns. For in­stance: in the cru­cial mat­ter of deal­ing with the pro­posal to re­place the cen­tralised, of­ten cor­rup­tion-prone, long-preva­lent sys­tem for the place­ment of govern­ment-con­trolled ad­ver­tis­ing in print me­dia, the se­cond state­ment re­sorts to mere re­liance on al­ready ex­ist­ing rules and pro­ce­dures to claim that the ex­ist­ing sys­tem works well. Whereas the whole point of an al­ter­na­tive, de­cen­tralised, trans­par­ent sys­tem would ob­vi­ously re­quire new rules and pro­ce­dures. It mis­rep­re­sents ac­tual rec­om­men­da­tions of the me­dia com­mis­sion to jus­tify its new po­si­tions, with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing that this means com­pletely chang­ing the min­istry's pre­vi­ous po­si­tions. Such a re­ver­sal rep­re­sents pos­si­ble con­tempt of two in­sti­tu­tions: the Supreme Court, and par­lia­ment ie the fed­eral min­is­ter of in­for­ma­tion dur­ing ques­tion hour in the Na­tional As­sem­bly on Dec 12, 2013 had ex­plic­itly re­ferred to the first con­cise state­ment sub­mit­ted to the court by his min­istry. In the eighth and ninth meet­ings of the Na­tional As­sem­bly Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on In­for­ma­tion, held on, re­spec­tively, April 16 and April 30, 2014, the stand­ing com­mit­tee en­dorsed, in the pres­ence of the in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter, and the thensec­re­tary, most of the rec­om­men­da­tions which are now be­ing op­posed, or mis­in­ter­preted or mis­rep­re­sented.

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