Wednesday July 24, 2024

NA panel okays Pemra bill with amendments

July 22, 2023

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting unanimously approved the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Amendment Bill 2023 on Friday.

The committee, which met at Radio Pakistan with Javaria Zafar Aheer in the chair, termed the Bill a historic initiative for the welfare of journalists and appreciated the efforts of all stakeholders, including the government, in that regard. Besides, The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill 2023, the committee also discussed The Press Council of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2023.

Minister of Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb, briefing the committee, said amending the Pemra law was the need of the hour as the entire scenario of the media had changed. She said the Pemra Ordinance, which was promulgated in 2002, was being amended for the first time. Its nine clauses were amended, while five new ones were added. The minister said under the amended law, for the first time, media workers were given the right to file complaints in the Council of Complaints, whereas in the past they were sacked even for demanding salaries.

Under the new bill, a three-member committee would now have the power to close down a channel instead of the Pemra chairman, she added.

Marriyum said in the past, an unsuccessful attempt was made to pass a black law like the Pakistan Media Development Authority. However, the incumbent government took 13 months to prepare the amended bill, as extensive consultations were held with all stakeholders, including media workers organisations and owners of media houses.

The minister said that the definition of fake news, disinformation, and misinformation had also been included in the bill. Disinformation and misinformation were interpreted separately. She said under the new bill, the fine for deliberately spreading false news had been increased from Rs1 million to Rs10 million.

In the past, the channels used to plead that the fake news they aired was filed by journalists in their personal capacity, but now they (the channels) would also be made accountable.

The minister said nine clauses, 2, 6, 8, 11, 13, 24, 26, 27, and 29, had been amended, whereas five new ones, 20, 20-A, 29A, 30B, and 39A, were added to the bill. She said in the preamble of the bill instead of the news, words like certified news, patience and tolerance, economic and energy development, and children-related content have been added. Under the bill, the scope of public entertainment, education, and information had been expanded.

Marriyum said the electronic media would have to use authentic news, besides content related to tolerance in society, general development, energy, and economic development. She said as per the amended bill, “timely payment refers to payments made to electronic media employees within two months”. The electronic media would be bound to abide by all decisions and orders of Pemra and the grievance council for timely payment of salaries. She said at the federal and provincial levels, government advertisements would not be given to electronic media houses over non-payment of salaries. She added that the duration of airing advertisements would not exceed five minutes during a regular programme on electronic media.

The minister said the broadcast media licences would be issued for 20 years and distribution licences for 10 years. She said a violation falling under the category of “violation of Article 19” would be considered a “serious violation”.

Marriyum said for the first time, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) had been given representation under the new Pemra law, while the condition of not broadcasting “disinformation” had also been included in the news channels’ code of conduct.

The minister said the grievance councils would be based in Islamabad and provincial capitals to redress the grievances of the people, institutions, and others. She added that the councils would also ensure the implementation of the government policy of minimum wages in the electronic media and timely payment of wages to employees. “The grievance council shall consist of a chairman and five members, serving for a term of two years,” she said, adding an appeal could be made against the decisions of Pemra in the high court of the respective province.