Media legislation

The news media in Pakistan had always been rather heavily regulated through legislation. The constitution guarantees freedom of expression for every citizen as well as freedom of the press. In 2010, the constitution acknowledged citizens' right to information by including Article 19-A.

A quick perusal of the many media-related laws indicates that citizens’ right to information has not the main objective of these laws. These were mainly designed to regulate or control media from the government’s perspective.

The expansion in the country’s electronic media market can largely be attributed to the promulgation of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance 2002. The law allowed private sector ownership of electronic media outlets and regulates private broadcast/electronic media such as television, cable and radio.

Other relevant legislations in recent years have included the Press Council Ordinance, 2002. The council has the mandate to implement a 17-point ethical code of practice for the press and suspend or cancel the declaration of any newspaper or news agency for non-compliance.

The Press, Newspaper, News Agencies and Books Registration (PNNBR) Ordinance, 2002, consolidates the law related to news agencies, publications and printing presses. It also repealed the West Pakistan Press and Publications Ordinance, 1963.

The Defamation Ordinance, 2002 defined defamation as any wrongful act or publication or circulation of a false statement or representation made orally or in written or visual form which injures the reputation of a person.

Traditionally, however, when the news media have upset those in power, the response of the latter has not always been confined to the use of laws.

The Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Services) Act, 1973, was another important media-related law promulgated in Pakistan in the last century.

Additionally, several parliamentary acts and ordinances contain various provisions dealing with the media. These include the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, the Telegraph Act, 1885, the Post Office Act, 1898, the Contempt of Court Act, 1973 and the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-Organisation) Act, 1996.

With the exception of the PNNBR Ordinance (registration of press, newspapers, books and new agencies) and PEMRA Ordinance (regulation of private broadcast/electronic media such as television, cable and radio), all the above laws are applicable to all kinds of media.