Copyright © Media Law International 2017. All Rights Reserved.
Specialist Guide to the
Global Leaders in Media Law Practice
A citizen’s right to know and freedom of press is enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan. The constitution of Pakistan expressly provides every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression and guarantees freedom of press, albeit such freedom is subject to certain restrictions imposed by law to safeguard the religious and moral sensitivities and national security of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign states, and public order. Such right to information has been further reinforced through the enactment of Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, which legislation once again acknowledges the citizen’s right to know.
Reflecting Pakistan’s linguistic diversity, the print media in Pakistan is divided linguistically into three major categories, namely, Urdu (the national language), English (the official language in most of Pakistan) and other local/regional languages.
At present, newspapers and magazines are published in more than 11 languages in Pakistan. Amongst these, English language newspapers and magazines are most influential and widely read by Pakistan’s political, military and business elite. Urdu (the national language of Pakistan) newspapers and magazines are popular among the general public, particularly, in the rural areas where electronic media is not readily accessible.
The local print media is primarily regulated by The Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance 2002, The Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance 2002 and the rules framed thereunder.
The Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance 2002 provides for the establishment of the “Press Counsel of Pakistan” to implement the “Ethical Code of Practice” as set out in the said ordinance. The Press Council is required inter alia to (i) preserve the freedom of the press and maintain the highest the professional and ethical standards of newspapers and news agencies; (ii) keep under review any development likely to o restrict the dissemination of news of public interest and importance; and (iii) receive complaints with regard to the violation of the Ethical Code of Practice for the newspapers, new agencies editors and journalists.
Under the Ethical Code of Practice, the press is required to inter alia uphold the standards of morality and avoid plagiarism, publication of slanderous and libellous material and unverified materials, biased reporting and sensationalism of violence and brutalities.
The Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance 2002 require printing presses, newspapers and news agencies to be registered with provincial authorities and furthermore, impose restrictions on any person not being a citizen of Pakistan, to own or hold any interest in any newspaper except with the previous approval of the provincial government.
The electronic media in Pakistan has undergone a radical transformation. Starting with having a state owned television channel, Pakistan Television Network or more commonly referred to as PTV, the liberalisation of electronic media in 2002 led to the explosion of local and privately-owned satellite television channels distributed via cable networks. Currently, there are more than 100 satellite television channels, more than 2,000 cable operators and more than 188 FM stations.
The liberalisation of electronic media led to the enactment of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 (“PEMRA Ordinance”). The PEMRA Ordinance provides for the establishment of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (“PEMRA”) and furthermore, empowers PEMRA with the exclusive right to issue licences for the establishment and operation of all broadcast media and distribution services.
The PEMRA Ordinance inter alia requires any person granted a license thereunder to ensure that programmes and advertisements do not contain or encourage violence, terrorism, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy, hatred, pornography, obscenity, vulgarity or other material offensive to commonly accepted standards of decency.
PEMRA is also empowered to prohibit any broadcast media or distribution services operator from inter alia broadcasting or re-broadcasting or distributing any programs or advertisements if it is of the opinion that such program or advertisement is against the ideology of Pakistan; or likely to create hatred among the people; or prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order; or likely to disturb public peace and tranquility; or endangers national security; or pornographic, obscene or vulgar; or offensive to the commonly accepted standards of decency.
The PEMRA Ordinance also provides for the establishment of Councils of Complaints. Such councils are empowered to receive and review complaints made by the general public against any aspects of programmes broadcast or distributed by a station established through a license issued by the above referenced authority.
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Rules 2009 framed under the PEMRA Ordinance provide a code of conduct for media broadcasters and cable television operator programmes, which code expressly prohibits airing of programmes which contains derogatory remarks or visuals about any religion or sect or community; contains pornographic, obscene or indecent content;abusive comments; or defamatory content; orcontains material which is against ideology of Pakistan or Islamic values.
Equipped with wide ranging powers, PEMRA has been vigilant in the enforcement of such powers and in the past has taken, and continues to take, actions against cable and satellite television channels on charges of piracy, plagiarism, and telecast of unethical and misleading content.
Pakistan has seen a significant increase of Internet usage over the past few years giving rise to a number of legal issues relating to domain names, intellectual property rights, privacy and data protection, publication of offensive content, online contracts, and cyber crimes.
Internet filtering in Pakistan is regulated by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (“PTA”) and Federal Investigation Agency (“FIA”) under directions of the Government, the Courts and/or Ministry of Information Technology. PTA had in the recent past, upon directions of courts in Pakistan, temporarily blocked access to certain websites (such as, Facebook and YouTube) for hosting offensive materials.
In 2015, Pakistan enacted its first cyber crime legislation, Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015, which offers penalties ranging from three months imprisonment to capital punishment for 17 types of cyber crimes, including cyber terrorism, hacking of websites and criminal access to secure data, data damage, spamming, spoofing and others. The Act gives exclusive powers to the FIA to investigate and charge against such crimes.
However, Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act also provides a specific exemption to “service providers” from any civil or criminal liability, unless it is established that the service provider had specific and actual knowledge and wilful intent to proactively participate and thereby, facilitated, aided or abetted the use by any person of any information system, service, application, online platform or telecommunication maintained, controlled or managed by the service provider in connection with any contravention of the said Act.
Sana Shaikh Fikree is primarily involved in matters related to intellectual property, corporate and commercial law. She advises corporate and individual clients on matters concerning maintenance and enforcement of IP rights (trademarks, copyrights, domain names, anti-counterfeiting and other emerging IP Rights). She has extensive experience of leading teams dedicated to maintain, protect and enforce IP rights (particularly, trademarks and copyrights) of specific clients belonging to sectors as diverse as confectionary, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, clothing, petroleum, and IT. She has also been involved with matters relating to corporate and commercial laws, including, mergers and acquisitions, anti-trust, corporate governance, cyber and media/advertising laws.
Media Market Overview
Written by Sana Shaikh Fikree,
Vellani & Vellani
Pakistan’s diverse and vibrant ethnic make-up is reflected through its electronic, print and other forms of media. To a great extent, media enjoys freedom of expression in Pakistan. However, such freedom was hard earned and, in the past and even today, is often scrutinised and, in some occasions, marred with pressures from the governments and other political stakeholders.
Sana Shaikh Fikree