A Lot to Talk About!
By Imtiaz Gul
Express Tribune, Fabruary 01, 2017
The latest show-cause notice to the Bol News TV by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) says the show Live with Dr Shahid Masood discussed sensitive information “recklessly and carelessly”. Only a few days earlier PEMRA had put the maverick Amir Liaquat Hussain on notice for his reprehensible tirade against several other individuals. But much to the chagrin of PEMRA and many others, he was frothing and fuming on his and other channels the next day, mocking the PEMRA ban.
It basically underscores the oft-repeated bitter fact of life; missing or deficient implementation of the existing laws. And it is certainly nothing new. Let us consider the history of official bans/ orders and their implementation in this country; on January 12, 2002, Pakistan banned six radical outfits including one shia organization. All of them resurfaced and continue their missions to date with different names, although the Anti-Terror Act 1997 specifically mentions that no person associated with a banned outfit would be allowed to operate under a new name. The same is reiterated in Point number 7 of the National Action Plan (NAP) which undertakes that “the defunct outfits will not be allowed to operate under any other name.”
But reality on ground point to the contrary; once LeT became JuD, for instance, and its charitable arm assumed the name of Falahe Insaniat Foundation (FIF), it has only multiplied in numbers and remains very much active even in the capital Islamabad. A direct crackdown following administrative action certainly carries the risk of violence and disorder. But that should not deter the state from taking legal actions against persons or groups considered detrimental to the interests of people both in and outside the country simply because a number of international treaties place compliance obligations on the state of Pakistan.
One critical element responsible for the catapulting of aberrations such as these anchors is the boundless greed of the corporate sector. Most multinationals and national companies dole out hefty advertisements to the shows that they believe draw huge audiences. The only consideration for them, it appears, is the promotion of their products. The government itself , in fact all major political parties, dish out huge advertising campaigns to major TVchannels.
Has the government or PEMRA reached out to such sponsors to persuade them to also consider the socio-political impact of their product promotions?
Why not engage the corporate sector on the commitments that the state of Pakistan made to its people and the international community?
It needs to proactively take the business houses in confidence on, for instance, point number of 5 of the NAP? It promises “strict action against the literature, newspapers and magazines promoting hatred, decapitation, extremism, sectarianism and intolerance.” This alone is enough to take care of the thoughtless and parochial rhetoric resonating on Bol and some other channels.
Point number 11 speaks of “ban on glorification of terrorists and terrorist organisations through print and electronic media. “ That sound sweet but have all state organs joined hands in making the private channels comply with this in deference to the collective public interest?
Even if we disregard the aforementioned commitments under NAP, point 15 (No room will be left for extremism in any part of the country) encapsulates the entire NAP commitment, particularly because TV and radio offer a huge space to people at large. And if the government promises not to leave “any room for extremism in any part of the country” it really has to prioritise the electronic media as the most critical tool in countering religious and social radicalisation.
If the all-state institutions are sincere to the national/public interest and consider radicalisation of minds as a “creeping monster,” why cannot they make advertising campaigns worth billions of rupees conditional upon compliance to the NAP? Why should leaders of banned outfits – particularly those who are under the scrutiny of neigbouring countries – adore the TV screens? Only punitive action will make the political rhetoric credible and as a major step to the NAP implementation.
A daunting task for government, the establishment, PEMRA and corporate sector indeed. Don’t wait for any averse move by President Trump after his ban on travelers from seven Muslim countries.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies