Pakistan set up a press council by presidential ordinance in 2002. From about 2000, the All Pakistan Newspaper Society and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) had been engaged in negotiations with the military regime then in power, over the mandate of a Press Council that would regulate newspaper functioning. The Press Council Ordinance was promulgated by Pakistan’s president and army chief of staff in 2002.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and the All-Pakistan Newspaper Employees’ Congress (APNEC) were not part of the consultations that had preceded the passage of the ordinance and refused to accept the authority of the Press Council Ordinance. The law, they said, did not provide fair representation for journalists’ unions and other newspaper workers. Journalists objected to the inclusion of government representatives and the exclusion of working journalists from what was supposed to be a self-regulating rather than government-directed body.
(i) Improve the standards of information, education and entertainment;
(ii) Enlarge the choice available to the people of Pakistan in the media for news, current affairs, religious knowledge, art, culture, science, technology, economic development, social sector concerns, music, sports, drama and other subjects of public and national interest;
(iii) Facilitate the devolution of responsibility and power to the grass-roots by improving the access of the people to mass media at the local and community level; and
(iv) Ensure accountability, transparency and good governance by optimizing the free flow of information.
The Body was to be made up of a chairman and nine members, all to be appointed by the President. One of the members would be appointed on a permanent basis, and five others would be chosen from diverse fields such as law, public service, media and human rights, with specific intent to provide representation to all of Pakistan’s provinces. These apart, the other three seats on PEMRA would be taken by government officials in charge of the telecom, broadcasting and information ministries.
PEMRA has since come up with orders banning the broadcast of certain channels and especially since the “emergency” proclamation of 2007, has sought to expand its remit. These have been staunchly resisted by the Pakistan media community.
The institutional basis of media accountability in Pakistan remains as of now, undefined.
Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees freedom of speech, subject to reasonable restrictions that may be imposed “in the interest of the glory of Islam”, and certain other conditions, including the security and integrity of the Pakistani nation, friendly relations with foreign powers, public order and morality and anything that may pertain to the commission of an offense.