The code of conduct issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the coverage of election campaign can be seen having little or no impact on the working of electronic media in the country.
Media experts say the code of conduct is a set of high sounding ideals that can hardly influence the functioning of a media industry deeply immersed in biases, pre-conceived notions and political prejudices. “Media has biases and pre-conceived notions, and it is impractical to implement all those idealistic principles mentioned in the ECP code of conduct,” says Adnan Rehmat, a leading media expert based in Islamabad.
The code of conduct is not backed by any mechanism of enforcement of punitive actions in case of violation of the code by the media houses. “It is going to have zero impact on the coverage of elections campaign in the media,” Rehmat believes.
It is stated in the code of conduct issued by the ECP that “the Election Commission of Pakistan will evolve a suitable mechanism for the implementation of media code of ethics prepared by the representatives of various media organisations.”
Officials in the ECP do not seem to realise that the media industry in Pakistan is functioning under the rules of free market where whatever sells becomes moral and ethical. If maligning a political leader or discussing his personal life sells and increases the rating of a television programme, it has to be broadcast, no matter what the ethical principles of journalism may require.
Mass media, throughout the world, is considered the most responsible form of media, especially if compared with social media, primarily because it filters extremist views and hate speech.
ECP’s code of conduct has urged the media houses to “try to the best of its ability to avoid all forms of rumour, speculation and disinformation, particularly when these concern specific political parties or candidates and where malicious intent is demonstrated; discourage all forms of hate speech that can be interpreted as incitement to violence or has the effect of promoting public disorder” reads the relevant portion of the code of conduct for the media. Media experts say these principles would hardly change the way media reports political events during election campaigns. Firstly, these principles are not backed by punitive mechanisms. Adnan Rehmat opines the political parties should be made party to this code of conduct.
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The free media has come under tremendous pressure from different parts of the state machinery not to report objectively. This was most visible when former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, reached Lahore on July 13, 2018. The media initially blacked out the rally which was brought out by the PML-N to welcome their leader.