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CJP’s intervention for independent PEMRA is a ray of hope for Pakistani media

Marriyum Aurangzeb, the Federal Information Minister, has been removed from the PEMRA chairman selection committee. A move by Chief Justice Pakistan ending the present Government’s control over the selection of next chairman at PEMRA.

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Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Saqib Nisar, has clarified on Monday that the Apex Court wanted to end the Government’s control over the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), in a visible pro-media move.

The role of PEMRA – which has been used by successive Governments to muzzle the electronic media and specific anchors – came under discussion during the hearing of a media commission case, with the top judge removing Marriyum Aurangzeb, Federal Information Minister, from the PEMRA chairman selection committee, virtually ending the Governemet’s control over the selection of next chairman and handing the minister’s authority over to the civil servant, Sardar Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera, who serves as the information secretary.

Besides making merit-based decisions, the restructured PEMRA would probably be able to complete procedure regarding the DTH licensing which started under Absar’s chair, however, did not materialize owing to judicial embargo.   

Established in 2001 by Pervez Musharraf, the media watchdog has been used more effectively to gag the press, than to facilitate the thriving media industry, however, with the removal of Federal Information Minister and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz loyalist, the regulatory body would definitely undergo drastic changes in terms of professional competence and merit-based selection.

At one end, the search committee would be finalizing the chief of headless body; on the other end, the new chief would be selected on the basis of solid credentials, let alone on the benchmark of pro-government commentary. The top judge is not only after revamping PEMRA, as he had earlier questioned the appointment of Atta ul Haq Qasmi as PTV’s Managing Director, a decision regarding which was reserved on February 26th, besides asking for a complete audit of renowned columnist and his son, YasirPirzada, who also serves at key position in the Capital Development Authority.

Read more: Indian TV channels accuses political opponents of being “Hindu Haters”

The interim order regarding PEMRA is sure to stir a concern in the already embattled Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz because slowly and steadily, it is losing control over the state-run organizations, which it managed like private enterprises. The role of an independent PEMRA would become more crucial in the days to come, due to upcoming elections, where all the parties would be demanding a level-playing field, on field and on screen.

Though, the role of media watchdog has remained controversial ever since its inception, the repute of the body hit a dead end when the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz government appointed renowned television anchor AbsarAlam as its chairman in 2015, at a hefty salary of 1.5 million per month, and reportedly in violations of rules. Though AbsarAlam had a career in media, spanning over two decades, his chairmanship allegedly tainted PEMRA due to exercise of unbridled authority.

Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice SaqibNisar, has clarified on Monday that the Apex Court wanted to end the Government’s control over the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), in a visible pro-media move.

During Absar’s stint as PEMRA chief, multiple TV channels were fined, while Lahore-based Neo TV was even completely banned for seven days. The most recent move of PEMRA, under Absar’s chairmanship was the blackout of Faizabad operation, launched by the Federal Government against the members of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan and religious groups in November, last year.

On November 25th, all the news channels across Pakistan were shut down, the suppression continued for 28-hours, in what appeared to be the most damaging move for a democratic regime, claiming to advocate right to free speech. However, Absar’s position was put in danger after Azhar Siddiqui, advocate filed a petition in the Lahore High Court, seeking his removal as chairman, following which the provincial high court ordered Absar Alam to vacate the post in December last year.

Read more: Why is PEMRA not playing its actual role?

The apex court decision to stripe Marriyum Aurangzeb, of her authority would not only lead to the selection of a deserving candidate for filling the top slot of PEMRA, but would also help the body in making fair decisions in future, because only an independent chief would be able to resist pressure from government, against imposing a ban on its nod.

Besides making merit-based decisions, the restructured PEMRA would probably be able to complete procedure regarding the DTH licensing which started under Absar’s chair, however, did not materialize owing to judicial embargo.

The role of an independent PEMRA would become more crucial in the days to come, due to upcoming elections, where all the parties would be demanding a level-playing field, on field and on screen.

The top judge had remarked that it was not a sword hanging over the Government but observed that this should be done. Besides the decision regarding PEMRA, the Chief Justice also summoned the editor-in-chief of GEO/Jang Group, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, as the said channel failed to compensate its employees from last three months.

Read more: PEMRA and the fate of Indian shows

Earlier, the top judge had ordered Geo’s management to clear the dues of newsmen by April 30th, however, as one of its renowned anchor, Hamid Mir, claimed that even he had not received any salary from last three months, the apex court judge ordered media mogul to appear before it on Tuesday (today).

The selection of PEMRA chief within next three weeks would set a visible path for the body to streamline its authority and work for the betterment of media workers, instead of suppressing media channels on someone’s behest.


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