Any discussion on accountability systems for Pakistan is known to provoke strong opinions from the media stakeholders and media critics. The media has at times faced criticism for a lack of understanding of ethical issues as well as for knowingly ignoring them in some instances. Over the years, there has been much soul-searching over the most appropriate, and least invasive, way for media accountability in the country. The news media is keen to jealously guard its hard-won freedom and has been wary of any undue government role in this respect. Although the media has long insisted that self-accountability is the way forward, effective industry accountability measures remain absent.
Friends of the media have repeatedly stated that a self-accountability mechanism will add to media credibility. Civil society actors focused on ethical journalism have literally invested years in consulting media stakeholders to arrive at what they suggest are consensus codes of conduct for journalism. However, media organisations’ cooperation and commitment in instituting or adopting an industry-wide code of conduct remains largely missing.
In fact, internal accountability mechanisms are in existence in no more than a couple of media organisations. In 2014, Dawn newspaper appointed an internal ombudsman to attend to readers’ complaints and take note of any alleged violations of its code of ethics. The only other newspaper to make such an effort earlier was The Express Tribune, which in 2010 appointed an eminent jurist as ombudsman for the paper. No other newspaper has set up such readers’ complaint address mechanism.
A media commission set up by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2013 regarding media accountability made a number of recommendations with respect to policies, structures and improvement of laws on media. The commission noted that media could not be left to exclusively regulate its content. The government and the court agreed with the overwhelming majority of the recommendations but substantial progress on implementation could not be made.
In the form of Press Council of Pakistan (PCP), the law provided in 2002 a forum with the stated purpose of accountability in the print media. The PCP comprises representatives of the APNS, CPNE, PFUJ and government officials and legislators. However, the body has largely been dysfunctional since its inception.