Media Meet to Agree Ground-Breaking Code for Reporting Elections in Pakistan
The challenge of objectivity, impartiality and balance in media is faced daily by Pakistan journalists, but there is no test of professionalism greater than that posed by a political election, states the Pakistan Coalition for Ethical Journalism, which today launched a historic code of ethics for the media in reporting the forthcoming elections.
The code was discussed at a meeting of senior media leaders in Karachi today and further meetings will be held in Lahore (November 21) and Islamabad (November 22).
The Pakistan Coalition plans to ask the Election Commission of Pakistan and the country’s major political parties to note the code and to respect the rights of journalists and media to report fairly and without any interference during the upcoming period.
"It is very important that the media realizes both its rights and its responsibilities," said Kamal Siddiqi, Editor of Express-Tribune and a member of the Pakistan Coalition for Ethical Journalism "In Pakistan being a journalist during election time makes you very vulnerable. You are pressurized from different sides. This code of conduct or a checklist of do's and don'ts keep things in perspective and helps us report the truth and report on issues that matter."
This view was strongly supported by Aidan White, Director of the Global Ethical Journalism Network, which has been working closely with the Pakistan Coalition.
"Election coverage is the biggest test of ethical journalism," he said. "Pakistan media are aiming to set standards that will ensure upcoming elections are properly reported, free of corruption and that all voices from all sections of society are heard. It is a bold initiative which should be supported on all sides."
The Coalition urges media to observe guidelines, which includes issues such as banning rumour & unsubstantiated allegations, not inciting hatred or sectarianism, banning inflammatory language, promoting tolerance and ensuring all parties and candidates are given fair & equal coverage.
Azhar Abbas, CEO of GEO TV, and also a leading member of the Coalition added his support, “Ethics are important because the media, especially the electronic media, is still in its infancy,” he said.
“There are lots that the industry still needs to learn. We have taken great strides in many areas, such as fighting for our rights, freedom of speech and democracy. But now we need to look from the inside. It’s time to have a clear set of ethics and a code of conduct so that the media can be judged and held accountable. This is never more important than during an election.
“For us, it is clear that public interest is the number one priority over ratings. Elections are after all, about the public. If we lose ratings during the election then so be it. Public interest must, and will, come first.”
Shafqat Abbasi, Press Council of Pakistan, also voiced his support for the initiative. “In regional media there is no concept of ethical journalism. Journalists often become the spokesman of political parties and candidates,“ he said. “We must strike out the culture of paid news where local officials can use their power and influence to affect what is written. In some areas journalists face threats and harassment if they don’t write the stories that they are told to. A strong code of conduct will help to protect journalists. Proper training of journalists is also essential.”
1. The aim of journalism on all media platforms is to provide coverage that is fair, unbiased and ethical.
2. This is particularly important in reporting of political affairs and the news, commentary and information services provided for citizens and voters at times of elections.
3. Media and ethical journalists in Pakistan strive at all times to
a) avoid discrimination against any political party, political leader or candidate
b) provide information that will assist citizens to better understand the issues, policies and perspectives of all democratic participants in the election process
c) ensure all communities are made fully aware of the election process and how they can freely exercise their right to vote
4. Media recognise that it is not always possible to cover all candidates in an election, but they shall strive to ensure that all candidates representing democratic values and a credible and significant body of opinion shall be subject to journalistic scrutiny and appropriate media coverage.
In this regard media shall apply principles of fairness in the allocation of time and space in provision of coverage to political parties and candidates while recognising that balance and fairness are achieved over a reasonable period of time.
In line with their responsibility to be inclusive and independent, media will canvass the voices and opinions of all sections of society and all democratic groups in their coverage of political affairs and elections.
In doing so, media shall scrupulously observe the distinction between advertising and editorial and shall not allow forms of advertising or unpaid political promotion to be disguised as editorial content. Paid political broadcasts must always be identified as such.
5. Media shall encourage journalism of the highest ethical standards in their election coverage and shall, in particular,
a) Ban all forms of intolerance and expression that can be interpreted as incitement to violence or hatred,
b) Avoid all forms of rumour, speculation and disinformation, particularly when these concern specific political parties or candidates,
c) Forbid the publication of unsubstantiated allegations or personal remarks or opinions that are designed to be offensive and malicious and verify information regarding individuals or parties which is critical or negative before it is telecast, broadcast or published,
6. Media respect the values of tolerance and respect in Pakistan society and are committed to excluding all forms of intemperate and abusive opinion that has the effect of promoting public disorder or intolerance.
7. This pledge to avoid inflammatory expression shall apply to coverage of political activities at all levels including when it applies to the reporting of statements or remarks by political leaders or candidates.
8. Media recognise that the power of elections rests with the people of Pakistan and the voters. They will exercise caution in the use of opinion polls and agree to work together to ensure that announcement of results is managed in an equitable and transparent manner ensuring that all media are able to report accurately the results as they emerge from the ECP and the election control room.
9. All media shall ensure that they and their staff are fully prepared for the task of election coverage and agree to follow the common principles for preparation and organisation of election coverage.
10. All media shall provide staff with guidance and advice on safety and security issues and provide journalists with appropriate support including insurance.
11. Candidates in Pakistan elections shall not act as news anchors, interviewers or presenters of any type of programme during the election period.
12. When a candidate takes part in an item about his or her particular election, then candidates of each of the major parties shall be offered the opportunity to take part. However, if they refuse or are unable to participate, the item may nevertheless go ahead.
13. Broadcasters must offer the opportunity to major candidates to take part in discussions covering a particular electoral area. This also applies to independent candidates. However, if a candidate refuses or is unable to participate, the item may nevertheless go ahead.
14. All media shall give the audience regular information about appropriate websites or other information source listing all candidates taking part in the elections.
15. Pakistan media agree to establish an election media monitoring group comprised of respected, non-partisan figures to protect the press from aggression and to investigate any incidents.
a) The group will follow the coverage of the election and register all incidents of threats or intimidation or other improper violation of their right to report freely. It shall receive and consider relevant information from media monitoring groups including the Press Council of Pakistan and PEMRA.
b) It shall further be committed to protect the interests of media and should work under the umbrella of the Pakistan Broadcasters Association, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the Pakistan Newspaper Society and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors.
c) This group shall deal with all complaints and issues arising from media coverage of the elections and shall strive to ensure professional respect for the principles and values set out in this code.
d) The group shall ensure that media act together to protect each other from acts of violence or political intimidation and that fair and transparent systems are used for the allocation of state and political advertising related to the elections.
16. Pakistan media agree to submit this code and its commitments to the election commission and to all political parties, who are asked to recognise and support the self-regulating commitment of media, and to respect journalists and their right to report freely.