As the Election Commission of Pakistan announced the final list of the candidates for the May 11 vote, broadcasters, publishers and editorial executives across all platforms of media highlighted an unprecedented agreement on media guidelines that aims to ensure fair reporting of the election and to avoid all forms of hate speech and incitement to violence.
The Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Arif Nizami speaking at the meeting of the media and support groups in Islamabad, “Forum on Media Guidelines for 2013 Election” said that the guidelines were essential to ensure a truly democratic vote.
He also said that all journalists and media must be able to report freely without any threat to their security and safety. “Media play a pivotal role in a democratic transition,” he said, “steps should be taken to ensure that they are able to report freely without any threats.”
Earlier, the meeting heard from the European Union, Election Observer Mission’s media analyst Inta Lase, who is helping a team of experts to monitor the performance of selected media outlets in their coverage of the election.
She said a sample of major media had been selected for monitoring.
The team will analyze the time allocated to each party to ensure balanced access for all political parties. They will also identify hate speech and monitor the tone of reporting to test whether the coverage is positive, negative or neutral.
The media guidelines are the result of detailed discussions between the Election Commission of Pakistan, South Asian Free Media Association, Pakistan Broadcasting Association, All Pakistan Newspaper Society, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, Pakistan Television, National Press Club, Press Council of Pakistan, and the Pakistan Federation Union of Journalists.
The meeting discussed how to help journalists respect the guidelines.
Aidan White, Director of the Ethical Journalism Network moderating the discussion, said that monitoring the performance of media by journalists themselves is vital to the success of the guidelines project. He said media self-assessment would reinforce standards, correct mistakes and strengthen the independence of journalism for the future.
Mr. White was supported by the Election Commission of Pakistan representative Raja Mohammad Iftikhar, Additional Director General (Public Relations), who said that for the first time the Commission is working very effectively with the media to develop and maintain standards.
He stressed that the value of media monitoring is that it will not undermine the independence of journalism in a drastically changing environment.
Among the contributors to the discussion was All Pakistan Newspaper Society, President Sarmad A. Ali who said, that the APNS is in the process of circulating the guidelines to all the member organizations. Meanwhile, the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) will be holding training sessions for the editorial executives on the guidelines.
The Director General of Pakistan Radio, Murtaza Solangi, said that, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation had initiated a top-to-bottom process of informing executives and journalists about the guidelines to ensure that they are put into effect.
The meeting agreed to the following:
- Media guidelines should be distributed internally to all editorial executives and news journalists for organising election coverage and reporting
- Guidelines should be published widely to encourage public engagement in the work of creating a comprehensive and inclusive public debate around the elections
- The process of monitoring of media performance should continue after the vote, when the media will be invited to review the impact of the guidelines and will prepare new strategies and structures for coverage and monitoring of future elections.
The forum was organized as a joint collaboration between Democracy Reporting International and Coalition for Ethical Journalism including other stakeholders and media support groups.