Media and Governance in Pakistan: A controversial yet essential relationship

May 5, 2011, 9:15 p.m.

Media and Governance in Pakistan:  A controversial yet essential relationship by Marco Mezzera and Safdar Sial, written for the Initiative for Peacebuilding, analyzes the role of media in Pakistan.  The purpose of the paper is to look at the mainstream news media and whether it has become more open and unbiased since the transition of power since Musharraf was removed from office.  A main focus of the paper looks at the role of the military in how media has developed over time and the current role that it plays.  The media laws found within Pakistan were enacted by the military.  Journalists 'selling' their name to support the military or government policies is a frequent problem.  In order to fully understand the main leaders in Pakistan’s media, it is essential to see where they originated from which is addressed a chart and descriptions laid out in the report.  Media has come to represent one of the power holders within Pakistan with its ability to decide what issues to give time and priority to and therefore it is essential to understand how it works. 

The historical evolution of the media in Pakistan underlines an interesting state of affairs, whereby all the original owners of print media were individuals with a background in journalism and often with a defined political/nationalist agenda. However, since the electronic media liberalisation of 2002, the situation has changed, with many media owners operating purely according to commercial interests and with no professional attachment to journalism.

The intervention of the military in the media industry has been significant. Since the first military ruler in the country, Ayub Khan, took political power in a coup in 1958, the government has bought the political alliance of many of the most prominent journalists. This practice, which occurs across the board, with all the major news outlets affected, continues today.

Probably one of the most relevant pieces of military legislation affecting the media has been the establishment and formalisation of a media regulatory authority. The Regulatory Authority for Media Broadcast Organisations (RAMBO), the predecessor of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), was established in 2000, and one of the four components of its mandate was to ‘facilitate the devolution of responsibility and power to grassroots by improving the access to mass media at the local and community level’. This was apparently in response to specific clauses in the country’s constitution about decentralising broadcasting, and it was probably also linked to the devolution process initiated by Musharraf in 2001.

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