PEMRA’s action against TV channels

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In a surprising move, the Council of Complaints (COC) Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) slapped a penalty of Rs0.5 million on 13 private television channels for airing fabricated news concerning Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairperson’s third marriage. Last month, the penalised channels had aired news of Imran Khan’s marriage, and had continued to do so despite Khan’s categorical rejection. The broadcasting authority announced the punitive measure despite PTI withdrawing its complaint against the TV channels. PEMRA has also directed the 13 television channels to tender an unconditional apology for airing the false news. While the authority has maintained that the measure was taken to uphold journalistic ethics, interestingly, it is the PTI that has termed the move to be politically motivated. PTI Head of Central Media Department Iftikhar Durrani had lodged a complaint against the channels, but the party on August 26 had withdrawn its complaint against all channels except one.
The irresponsible reporting on the part of news channels had not only harmed the reputation of Khan but also of the woman who was allegedly shown as PTI chairperson’s third wife. In this regard, the move on the part of PEMRA is justified despite PTI withdrawal of the official complaint as Khan was not the only one targeted in the news.
However, decisions taken by PEMRA in the past, without any substantial standing operating procedure, does not bide well with the authority’s stance. Although there is a need to keep a check on TV channels to ensure no red lines are crossed — incitement of violence, glorification of violence, propagation of hate speech, personal attacks on individuals — PEMRA should not act as a big brother and take decisions arbitrarily.