Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the restrictive nature of a new code of conduct for radio and TV stations that was drafted by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), an information ministry offshoot, and took effect on 20 August.
Called the Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct 2015, it is clearly designed to increase censorship of radio and TV programmes, which are already subject to close control. Consisting of a series of very restrictive provisions, the code combines rules of a professional ethical nature with other rules that limit the ability of journalists to comment on or criticize Islam, the judicial authorities and the armed forces. When deemed necessary, the media will also have to replace live broadcasting with delayed broadcasting to permit the removal of content that violates the directives. The code does not provide the media with a list of subjects that cannot be broadcast live, leaving it to them to decide what should be censored. As the new code does not explicitly mention sanctions, Pakistani journalists – who were at no time consulted during its drafting – fear that this omission could lead to completely arbitrary reprisals similar to those taken against Geo TV and its journalists. “The imposition of such a draconian code is unacceptable as it leaves a permanent threat hanging over Pakistan’s radio and TV stations,” said Christophe Deloire secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “The vague and imprecise character of some of the code’s provisions opens the way to drastic self-censorship by the Pakistani media on anything to do with Islam and other religions, and other matters that are fundamental to Pakistani society. The only leeway allowed to Pakistan’s journalists is in the selection of the content to be censored.” This rag-bag code, which also aims to protect minors and restrict incitement to violence, includes provisions that allow the authorities to censor any content that attacks “Islamic values, ideology of Pakistan or founding fathers of the nation” (article 3.1.a) or “derogatory remarks about any religion” (article 3.1.d). These concepts are vague and therefore dangerous. The same goes for the provision calling on the media not to cast “aspersions against the judiciary or armed forces” (article 3.1.j). The code also restricts coverage of “ongoing security operations” (article 8.8) or reporting the “number of victims” (article 8.7) during security or rescue operations unless previously authorized. The media must also “ensure that coverage of the activities in conflict zones are carried out in accordance with the guidelines issued by the concerned law enforcement agencies” (article 8.10). Pakistan is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.