Suggested additions of definitions in PEMRA Ordinance | Pakistan Today

Suggested additions of definitions in PEMRA Ordinance

  • The concept of ethics was introduced by the Greeks

In a country where the literacy ratio is low, the electronic media attains a prominent position as a tool for channelising public opinion on mainstream and non-mainstream issues. It has a tremendous impact upon not only formation of political opinion but also upon changing in social behaviour, lifestyle and buying patterns to name a few.

Contrary to popular belief, Electronic Media Authority of Pakistan existed before Musharraf. Known as EMRA, it was restructured as PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Authority) under Musharraf when he decided to take the yoke off the television, thereby opening doors to independent individuals and groups to step into the arena of electronic media privatising the otherwise government directed medium of communication.

This open door policy created a clear division in the world of TV journalism. One is governed by state controlled television or PTV, the other privately owned satellite and cable channels.Perceptions of responsibility vary from country to country, and even from time to time. For many, the standard in times of peace and stability may seem very different than in time of war or a national emergency. In the situation that Pakistan finds itself today which is a state of war against terrorism; reporting both in terms of news and views must come up to exactingly responsible standards. How, if at all is this possible in light of untrained electronic media, war of ratings and individual self-interests is a negative and predictable outcome.

There are also some changes suggested owing simply to time elapsed between laws formed last and/or changes made and now that make such changes unavoidable. We must also keep in mind the political, cultural and economic situation today as we read these suggestions.

This open door policy created a clear division in the world of TV journalism. One is governed by state controlled television or PTV, the other privately owned satellite and cable channels

Some definitions need to be added. Absence of these defining terms have led to lack of clarity and litigation in many cases.

Monopoly: A privilege or peculiar advantage vested in one or more persons or companies consisting in the exclusive right (or power) to carry on a particular business, or trade. (Black’s Law Dictionary Pg 1006- Centennial Edition-1891-1991)

Public interest: Something in which the public, the community at large, has some interest.

Expert: an “expert” (noun) is someone who is “very skillful, having much training and knowledge in some special field and/ or one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject.


A debate in the last few years erupted as to what obscenity is. Pakistan’s electronic Ordinance/Act and Code of Conduct specifically prohibits anything aired that is obscene while failing to define the term. “A statement issued by PEMRA said that the meeting also concluded that “any content which is unacceptable while viewing with the family transpires obscenity” and recommended formulating a committee to screen out unwanted content from television advertisements as well as regulating the rating of television channels. The meeting was convened on the directions of the Supreme Court.” The same news states, “Earlier, the apex court had taken notice of the petitions filed by Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmed and former chief of Jamat-e-Islami Qazi Hussain Ahmed against obscenity and vulgarity being broadcast on the electronic media. They requested the regulatory body to make policy guidelines barring TV channels from broadcasting vulgarity. According to the law, TV channels are barred from telecasting ‘obscene material’; however there are no set parameters to what can be classified as obscene.” (The Express Tribune August 27, 2012)

Obscenity is arguably a relative concept, but at the same time, the need to regulate it and to bring in proper checks and filters is the need of the day. The question before us is to decide the parameters of this much-needed regulation that allows freedom of speech and expression yet ensuring it does not transcend generally acceptable limits of decency.

Some judicial precedents to define the term are outlined below:

Regina v. Hickland (1868)

In this landmark English case the ‘Hicklin test,” the legal test to determine obscenity was established. It was held that all material tending “to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences” was obscene, regardless of its artistic or literary merit.

Roth v United States (1957)

The material categorized as obscene would be such if it seems obscene to an average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest. It was determined the First Amendment does not support obscenity.

Miller v. California (1973)

The Court had rewritten the law of obscenity, setting three guidelines for juries to apply: 1) whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards,’ would find the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest. 2) Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law. 3) Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Suggested definition of Obscenity:

I will recommend using the Roth Test parameter as defining obscenity that is internationally accepted. However, the beauty of it is it can be applied locally to different environments & community standards as per local needs.

“Whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals prurient interest.”

Media laws are not a concrete set of laws like criminal law but a mix of laws and ethics. It is the guideline for operators of media. The term ‘media laws’ denotes the parameters within which individuals and organisations need to operate without transcending boundaries.

The concept of ethics was introduced by the Greeks. It is based on the pillars of Aesthetics, Epistemology and Ethics. The first is based on how an individual views objects without basing his/her opinion on subjective analysis. The second is based on debating on issues based on human knowledge while the third is a study of what is best for not only the individual but also the society at large. In the world of today, ethics means making a rational choice between the good and bad, making moral choices between both the good and bad. If laws and ethics are governing societies, media cannot be an island exempted from its application. Every constitution by every nation allows freedom of expression and freedom of speech but with conditions. Without these conditions, it becomes the law of the jungle. The power of media, especially electronic media, cannot be underrated in today’s world. This places huge responsibility on media operators. With the presence of media laws and ethics comes accountability as it does for individuals and organisations working in any field. Misrepresentation, lack of impartiality, deliberate inaccuracy are all traits and actions that must be made accountable.

End Note: The world is beset by many problems, but in my opinion, this hijacking of our brain’s reward centers by electronic media is potentially one of the most destructive. (Andrew Weil)

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: [email protected] and tweets at @yasmeen_9.