Elections 2013: ECP media code vague

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Nov 16, 2013.

Islamabad –┬áThe media code of conduct for the 2013 elections released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is a vague, general and restrictive document which should be made more specific, well-defined and less prohibitive.

Journalists, media analysts, regulators and civil society members made these recommendations at a consultative meeting organised by the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) at its office in Islamabad on Thursday.

It was revealed during the discussion that ECP came up with the proposed code of conduct for media without even consulting any media representative bodies. Moreover, the ECP did not even disseminate the guidelines to the media, according to the participants.

Zafarullah Khan, director of the CCE, said the ECP came up with the code of conduct on November 8, the same day it released the much-discussed code of conduct for political parties.

He said the ECP has stated if it doesn’t receive any recommendations within two weeks, it will consider the silence a tacit approval for the proposed codes.

Khan said it’s important to remind the media about election coverage code of conduct.

“This event will determine the political wealth of the country,” Khan said. “This is the right time to think about media’s responsibilities in covering it.”

The proposed guidelines state that “no radio/television channel shall broadcast or print media shall publish anything that adversely affects the public opinion against a particular political party or a candidate.”

It also stops the broadcast media from airing “any comment, discussion, advertisement, documentary, talk shows etc” in the 48 hours before the Election Day when political parties and candidates are not allowed to run the election campaigns. Similarly, print media “shall also refrain” from publishing material for or against political parties during this period.

Another proposed code states the media shall only announce election results issued by presiding officer, returning officer or the ECP. This suggests that media might not be able to rely on the traditional sources, such as polling agents, to announce unofficial election results.

The participants mulled over the proposed code of conduct and talked about ways it could be improved.

Shemrez Nauman, a participant, said instead of prohibiting and constraining the media through restrictive guidelines, the ECP could use the media as allies.

“The media can play a role in making the elections free, fair and transparent by exposing any illegal activities,” Nauman said. “The ECP should recognise this potential of the media and utilise it.”

Another interesting point in the code of conduct is that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) will ensure that all political parties get “balanced coverage.” PEMRA has also been asked to monitor the coverage in the guidelines.

The PEMRA officials who attended the meeting said PEMRA monitors 50 channels round the clock for content, but monitoring the election coverage of numerous TV channels and the around 150 FM radio stations would be quite difficult.

Some of the codes are quite vague and general, for example, one code reads, “Remarks about personal life of an individual shall be avoided in print and electronic media.”

“These codes have been written in a broad sense,” Nasir Ayaz, General Manager Legal of PEMRA, said. “These will give rise to discretion and interpretation issues.”

Some journalists who took part in the discussion argued that the election coverage should be brought in line through legal procedures and enforcement of statutory obligations. They suggested the need for monitoring of big media’s election coverage and a “name and shame” practice to expose the wrongdoings of media houses.

Shafqat Abbasi, chairman of the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP), said he had met with ECP officials recently regarding the elections code of conduct for media, but was not informed by the ECP about the release of proposed codes. He said the PCP intends to hold meetings with journalist organisations to come with recommendations for the ECP’s media guidelines

The media code of conduct for the 2013 elections released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is a vague, general and restrictive document which should be made more specific, well-defined and less prohibitive.

Journalists, media analysts, regulators and civil society members made these recommendations at a consultative meeting organised by the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) at its office in Islamabad on Thursday.

It was revealed during the discussion that ECP came up with the proposed code of conduct for media without even consulting any media representative bodies. Moreover, the ECP did not even disseminate the guidelines to the media, according to the participants.

Zafarullah Khan, director of the CCE, said the ECP came up with the code of conduct on November 8, the same day it released the much-discussed code of conduct for political parties.

He said the ECP has stated if it doesn’t receive any recommendations within two weeks, it will consider the silence a tacit approval for the proposed codes.

Khan said it’s important to remind the media about election coverage code of conduct.

“This event will determine the political wealth of the country,” Khan said. “This is the right time to think about media’s responsibilities in covering it.”

The proposed guidelines state that “no radio/television channel shall broadcast or print media shall publish anything that adversely affects the public opinion against a particular political party or a candidate.”

It also stops the broadcast media from airing “any comment, discussion, advertisement, documentary, talk shows etc” in the 48 hours before the Election Day when political parties and candidates are not allowed to run the election campaigns. Similarly, print media “shall also refrain” from publishing material for or against political parties during this period.

Another proposed code states the media shall only announce election results issued by presiding officer, returning officer or the ECP. This suggests that media might not be able to rely on the traditional sources, such as polling agents, to announce unofficial election results.

The participants mulled over the proposed code of conduct and talked about ways it could be improved.

Shemrez Nauman, a participant, said instead of prohibiting and constraining the media through restrictive guidelines, the ECP could use the media as allies.

“The media can play a role in making the elections free, fair and transparent by exposing any illegal activities,” Nauman said. “The ECP should recognise this potential of the media and utilise it.”

Another interesting point in the code of conduct is that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) will ensure that all political parties get “balanced coverage.” PEMRA has also been asked to monitor the coverage in the guidelines.

The PEMRA officials who attended the meeting said PEMRA monitors 50 channels round the clock for content, but monitoring the election coverage of numerous TV channels and the around 150 FM radio stations would be quite difficult.

Some of the codes are quite vague and general, for example, one code reads, “Remarks about personal life of an individual shall be avoided in print and electronic media.”

“These codes have been written in a broad sense,” Nasir Ayaz, General Manager Legal of PEMRA, said. “These will give rise to discretion and interpretation issues.”

Some journalists who took part in the discussion argued that the election coverage should be brought in line through legal procedures and enforcement of statutory obligations. They suggested the need for monitoring of big media’s election coverage and a “name and shame” practice to expose the wrongdoings of media houses.

Shafqat Abbasi, chairman of the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP), said he had met with ECP officials recently regarding the elections code of conduct for media, but was not informed by the ECP about the release of proposed codes. He said the PCP intends to hold meetings with journalist organisations to come with recommendations for the ECP’s media guidelines.

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