A huge step is being made by the government for the progress of the media industry- a new Media Regulatory Authority, allegedly in consultation with the journalists’ associations, is being approved by the cabinet. Whether this step will result in actual progress of the journalism industry, or if it means more rollback of press freedoms, remains to be seen.

The federal cabinet on Thursday approved the formation of the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) that envisages merger of all bodies regulating media, including the print and electronic media. With the formation of PMRA, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP) would be merged into the new organisation. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has said that the new regulatory body will not only regulate just electronic media, but its jurisdiction would also extend to print and “cyber media”.

However, it seems that this decision might not have been taken with consultations from all journalists associations as some media groups have expressed their opposition to the formation of PMRA. The PCP in December had unanimously rejected the proposed creation of the media regulatory authority.

Our apprehensions with the proposed new regulatory body have to do with the lack of information on how this new authority will be different from PEMRA and what new measures will be passed by it. So far, the only source of information has been an official draft titled “Proposed Mandate and Scope of the PMRA” prepared by the Ministry of Information. The draft suggests that the federal government will establish Councils of Complaints which would be empowered to recommend action of censure, fine against electronic, print or digital media liscensees for violation of code of conduct. The draft also says PMRA will work for exclusion of monopolies in media.

Even with the Draft, the proposals don’t lay out exactly what approach will be taken towards media and what the government means by “violation of code of conduct”. Mr. Chaudhry suggests that it means defamation would not be allowed to pass- does that mean more stringent laws on expression and a need to disclose sources in every story? What is worrying is that the Draft does not mention or prioritise independence of the media regulatory body and it seems that the same body regulating media may be responsible for government advertisements as well.

The media industry is indeed in crisis-a new independent media regulatory body can rejuvenate journalism but only if the independence of the press is guaranteed. It is advised to the government to take all media stakeholders on board before authorising any regulatory body.