Sensationalism A Challenge For Media Watchdog

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Of the majority who watch the news and current affairs on television regularly, some 42 per cent prefer headlines only, says Ikram Barkat, DG PEMRA Punjab in an interview.

While sharing statistics from a recent study, he said women are mostly interested in headlines while men watch the complete bulletin.

“The most preferred time slots for watching TV news are 8 pm to 11 pm. However, men keep watching TV till midnight. On average, people watch the news at least twice a day,” he said.

The DG (Ops) maintained that 29 per cent of people, mostly men, watch political talk shows. “Around 75 per cent of people believe that our dramas are suitable to watch with families,” Barkat said. Around 60 per cent public is not interested in watching advertisements at all.

For Barkat, regulation is generally associated with control and largely professed as content regulation, but he feels, “regulating is not controlling”.

“Regulation is essential for the protection of ‘national interest’. Freedom of speech for some is an opportunity to speak whatever they want. Such freedom cannot be allowed as it could even threaten the integrity of our motherland,” he added.

Speaking about the mandate of PEMRA, he shared that the authority’s mandate includes improving the standard of information and enhancing the choices in media for news, current affairs etc.

According to Barkat, PEMRA prohibits electronic media from airing anything against Islamic values, the ideology of Pakistan or the father of the nation. Derogatory remarks about any religion, sect, community, content having indecent or pornographic material, content that amounts to intimidation, blackmail or false incrimination of any person or any other content containing aspersions against the judiciary or the country’s armed forces are strictly prohibited to go on air.

“We bind the channels to present information accurately and fairly and conduct political or analytical programmes including talk shows objectively. The PEMRA refrains and warns channels from airing unnecessary details and footage of gory scenes including bloodshed and dead bodies as a result of blasts, accidents or violence,” he added.

According to Barkat, to ensure its code of conduct, the regulatory authority first issues advice to the concerned media setups followed by a warning and after that, a show cause notice is issued. After that, a public hearing is conducted which is followed by the imposition of a fine which may lead to the suspension of the licence or even its revocation.

The Council of Complaints is established in Islamabad as well as every provincial capital of the country. They are mandated to review complaints against any aspect of programmes and their content. The council consists of a chairperson and five members, out of which at least two are female. The council is also empowered to summon licence holders. It recommends censure or fines on account of violation of the code.

Speaking about the challenges faced by the regulatory authority, the DG maintained that sensationalism is undoubtedly the biggest challenge that triggers a race for ratings amongst channels since the content is being driven by ‘what sells’.

According to Barkat, the PEMRA Punjab monitors some 250 TV channels round the clock and its storage capacity of content is up to six months. “Our monitoring team archives important content identifies objectionable content and generates reports through tailor-made software,” he said.

“We monitor 699 talk shows, 144 morning shows, 34 crime shows and 406 drama series in a week. The PEMRA is capable of recording 250 satellite TV channels and some 50 FM radio channels.”

This interview originally appeared at Bol News and has been reproduced with permission of the author. 

Hassan Naqvi
Hassan Naqvi
Hassan Naqvi is an award-winning digital, print, and broadcast investigative journalist who is the co-founder of The Scoop. He also hosts his web shows 'The Scoop' and 'The Hassan Naqvi Show'.

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