Islamabad: Compliance with Articles 19 and 19A of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression for citizens and access to information should be ensured in the troubled Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as an intrinsic part of the political reforms being promoted there and the president of Pakistan needs to ensure this since he has the jurisdictional authority there. This was the consensus of a roundtable discussion held in Islamabad on Thursday titled “Can Political Reforms Work Without Media Reforms in FATA?” conducted by Intermedia Pakistan, a national media development organization which works on advocacy, research and training on media issues.
Executive Director Intermedia Adnan Rehmat conducted the discussion and also presented a comparative analysis of the state of media in mainstream Pakistan and FATA. Representatives from Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), National Press Club (NPC), Educational Broadcasters Forum (EBF), several civil society organizations and think tanks and a large number of media representatives endorsed the need for urgent media reforms in FATA.
“We, the participants of the Islamabad Roundtable [Nov 24, 2011] fully endorse the consensus Declaration of the Peshawar Roundtable [of Nov 22, 2011] seeking the same rights for residents of FATA as in the rest of Pakistan, especially firm compliance of Articles 19 and 19A guaranteeing freedom of expression and right to information, and including the right to have legal, independent local media, which is imperative for full realization of political reforms in the region.
We also express solidarity with the residents of FATA in their inalienable equal political and constitutional rights and all efforts to afford them the same media freedoms as in the rest of Pakistan, and urge the Governments, Parliament and the President to take concrete steps to realize these rights,” a consensus Declaration adopted by the roundtable said.
The roundtable, the second in a series of discussions seeking practical mechanisms to allow independent and pluralist media in FATA at the earliest as a means of empowering FATA residents and to increase their participation in the political process, considered three options suggested by the Peshawar roundtable participants, which included FATA Secretariat, PEMRA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ministry of Information, Tribal Union of Journalists, Peshawar Press Club and civil society groups, to translate Articles 19 and Articles 19A into reality.
The actionable options, in terms of mechanisms to bridge the gap between fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees in FATA as outlined in Articles 19 and 19A, discussed in the Islamabad roundtable, held with support of the British High Commission, including introducing an independent regulatory framework for independent media in FATA and extending the operation of existing mainstream Pakistani legislation, including PEMRA law, to FATA, and empowering FATA Secretariat or provincial information department to grant licenses for private media in FATA.
An engrossing discussion followed with arguments in favor and against each option with most participants altogether rejecting the third option and supporting Option #2 saying that extension of PEMRA’s jurisdiction to FATA – as done in the case of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan – seemed the quickest route for allowing independent media in FATA.
Many of the discussants felt that Option #1 would create a case of exceptionalism and it would run counter to the principle of bringing FATA into Pakistan’s mainstream media framework and that it would also be open to rollback. They said that extending PEMRA jurisdiction to FATA would help FATA as any changes to the PEMRA law would be effective for the whole country mot just FATA and any benefit it profits in Pakistan would also accrue to the tribal areas.
There was consensus among participants that the process of bringing a regulatory regime for allowing independent media, especially community radio stations, in FATA be expedited by the relevant authorities and line ministries and culminating in quick approval by the presidency.
The third roundtable will be conducted with legal, media and political authorities to discuss the outcomes of the first two roundtables and how to translate the demand and endorsement for FATA residents’ right to exercise their political rights through media reforms for FATA as a means to ensuring the success of political reforms for the region. The fourth roundtables will be with parliamentarians.