Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Media Code of Conduct

The code of conduct that eight television channels agreed to on November 6 has received deafening applause. Given that the plaudits are coming from the mainstream media itself, I'm not particularly inclined to take them very seriously. The code was a long time coming and while The News today patted itself on the back for its "emerging maturity" it failed to mention that the code saw the light of day only because of the threat of government interference.

Don't get me wrong. I do not agree with the amendments the assembly was going to make in the PEMRA Act. The clauses forbidding any talk prejudicial to the ideology and sovereignty of Pakistan (whatever that means) and anything that ridicules the head of state, armed forces, bureaucracy or judiciary were blatant attempts at censorship. But the media has not been very responsible in exercising its newfound freedom.

The code addresses some of the media's shortcomings. Violent images will not be broadcast and more care will be taken in verifying facts and reporting hostage situations live. But it remains unclear how binding this code really is. Reading the Dawn report one gets the impression that it is not. It repeats ad nauseam that the the code is just a voluntary guideline. In fact, the words "voluntary" and "voluntarily" appear eight times! Does that mean that these channels can disregard the code whenever the please? Will there be no comprehensive system of regulation, no penalties for infractions? Apparently not.

This supposed sign of maturity seems more like a puerile publicity stunt. A ploy to get the government and the public off the media's back. And even then the media failed to mention in its "voluntary guidelines" any resolve against advocating violence. The pogrom against Ahmadis that Aamir Liaquat Hussain's show of 7 September 2008 sparked does not seem to sit very heavy on the media's conscience. Freedom of speech has its limits and preaching violence against human beings is beyond the pale. Preaching the murder of Pakistani citizens on national television is nothing short of abominable. But the media has not even paid lip service to preventing such deplorable incidents.

I don't think this code of conduct is good for much. Ideally, the government, media and civil society should sit down and come to an agreement on a code of ethics, which should be made into law and enforced by a regulatory body through fines and penalties. The code should be precise in wording (like the media's code of conduct not the assembly's proposed amendments) but it should also be binding. If the media is serious about its role as the fourth pillar of democracy it has to step up and accept the responsibilities that come with the job.


Faizan Ahmad said...

What is this Shayan.. no post in over a month?

Shayan_R said...

eep! yes, yes. im very behind on the blogging... must make amends.

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