It is now time for the institutions to engage in self-reflection, to sit down and ponder over the current state of affairs and the right way forward. There is a grave need for some institutional debate and reforms to counter the menace of extremism. This unfortunate Peshawar incident not only brought together political rivals on the same table to form a national action plan but also strengthen the civil-military coordination in the war against extremism. Under the current circumstances, the role of media- also considered as the fourth pillar of the state, is more crucial than ever.
However, what we witnessed post Peshawar attack on our TV screens were forced interviews of devastated family members, Taliban apologists being invited on TV shows and encouragement of hate speech by a religious scholar against a religious minority group on a popular show. This particular anchor person had previously held a similar show back in 2008 which lead to the murder of two people over religious differences. After this show was aired, another person was gunned down in Gujranwala, yet no action was taken to take him off air. The nature of content on electronic media and such incidents make one question whether there are any checks and balances on the media?
In this regard, a lot of false hopes are often pinned on Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), established in 2002 to facilitate and regulate the private electronic media. The authority was mostly concerned with issuing licenses, it was only later that a code of conduct was laid out and clauses were added to expand its scope. PEMRA however has failed to exercise its operational powers as a regulatory body.
Coupled with other things, the right to freedom of expression and speech do not include any such act or speech which may provoke, stimulate or encourage a violent action or offense
It is true that Pakistan is bound to comply with the provisions of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) including Article 19 pertaining to freedom of expression and Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan also clearly lays down the foundation of right to freedom of speech and expression but these rights are not absolute. Coupled with other things, the right to freedom of expression and speech do not include any such act or speech which may provoke, stimulate or encourage a violent action or offense. Furthermore, Article 153-A of the Pakistan Penal Code also prescribes punishments for promoting “enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities”.
There was no need to further add these provisions in the National Action Plan and make subcommittees to ensure that terrorists are not glorified by the media and there is no hate speech or extremist content offered, if the existing laws were implemented in the first place. Some people believe that the big media houses run by private companies fuel such hate content and extremists views to create sensationalism and generate more TRPs. In a country where the law and order situation is deplorable to say the least, it is rather delusional to expect accountability of the media giants; self-regulation by media personnel is the only short term solution. There is also a need to build a national narrative based on a long term media policy to counter facilitate the ongoing war against terrorism and build a tolerant society based on religious harmony.
The increasing TRPs of shows based on hateful content also shed light on the disturbing contribution of the society in encouraging hate speech and extremist views on the media. There is a media theory called uses and gratification which suggests that media users play an active role in choosing and using specific media content to satisfy their needs; this theory also reflects on the intolerant mindset of the society which had made this particular programme the most watched show of the channel. Thus, the institutions are not the only entities that need self-reflection, we as a society also need to question ourselves whether we have encouraged religious intolerance through our amusement for such media content over the period of time.