Pakistani government mandates guidelines for broadcasters

New York, August 21, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the sweeping nature of guidelines from Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) for on-air news coverage and commentary on the nation’s television and radio channels. The Electronic Media (Programs and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015 was made public Thursday in Pakistan and is effective immediately, PEMRA said.

The 24-point guidelines set strict limits for live coverage of ongoing security operations such as hostage standoffs and terrorist attacks. Broadcasters “shall air only such information as may be warranted by the security agency in charge of the operation,” the code mandates. The rules also set controls for discourse during political discussion shows, which is often heated in Pakistan; broadcasters are restricted from airing what PEMRA calls those engaging in “hate speech” or denunciations of religious beliefs.

“Codes of conduct should be voluntarily developed and enforced by a country’s media industry, rather than being handed down by any government,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Pakistan’s news organizations have shown willingness in the past to develop their own rules for responsible coverage, and this code smacks of government interference and a threat to press freedom in an already frail media environment.”

The guidelines, which update a 2009 version, were drawn up in consultation with the Pakistan Broadcasting Association over the past several months, according to media reports. Members of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) have complained they were not included in the discussions, according to Mazhar Abbas, a broadcaster and media activist and former president of PFUJ.