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October 13, 2017



Anyone stands up and slates MPs, says Nehal Hashmi

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb Thursday told the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting that the draft of proposed piece of legislation for journalists welfare and protection will be presented in the next federal cabinet meeting for approval.

The committee met here under its Chairman PML-Q Senator Kamil Ali Agha.   The forum was given a briefing on the proposed legislation.  The minister said it included a proposal for establishment of a welfare fund for journalists with 50 per cent funds each from the government and the media houses.

Regarding airing of ads on television channels about health, the minister told the committee that without permission from the Ministry of Health, ads on health could not go on air. It was learnt that on a letter given by former fast bowler Sarfaraz Nawaz to the committee chairman, a report within ten days had been from the relevant quarters regarding the alleged malpractices by Dr. Nauman Niaz, who is director sports PTV.

PML-N Senator Nihal Hashmi complained that anyone stood up to unleash criticism at parliamentarians and wondered why Pemra did not take action in this connection.  

Pemra Chairman Absar Alam pointed out that there was constitutional protection to the judiciary and the armed forces with regard to criticism.  

The senators said that they all were democratic people and never used backdoors and did not indulge in twisting of things. Therefore, there should be constitutional cover to parliamentarians as well on the same pattern.

They emphasized this should also be discussed with TV anchors, why they defended those who subverted the Constitution. There should be talk on sanctity of the Parliament as well. Senator Hashmi said had the issue of list 37 persons pertained to any other institution, there would have been no lame excuse for Absar. 

The Pemra chairman said the Islamabad High Court had stopped them from further action on this particular matter. To this, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar said as per his information, the court had not barred Pemra from carrying out investigation. 

Senator Kamil Agha charged the government on its own had done away with this issue.  The information minister, however, clarified that no decision had been taken yet from the government side to close this matter.  

She added the Intelligence Bureau had filed a case for investigation into the fake document while Riaz Hussain Pirzada had said from his side, the issue was over. Senator Babar again contended that he had not heard about Pirzada calling for withdrawal of FIR lodged by IB and insisted that if this were to be done, then more questions would be raised, adding this could not be done.

About complaints against television channels’ programmes, the committee was informed that Pemra had already taken action on several complaints, as Senator Kamil Agha retorted that to spread hatred against any community was an anti-Pakistan act.

He continued that he himself had taken notice of the issue of insult of Pakhtoons and Baloch people in a PTV show.   He emphasized that strict notice be taken of this and the programme must not be repeated.

The minister said Pakistan was already bearing the brunt of spreading ethnic issues and sectarianism and that such type of programmes just could not be tolerated, as this show had already caused embarrassment and that she had apologized on the floor of the assembly. She said an oversight body had been formed to make sure such content was not aired on PTV.

PTV had aired a programme on Eidul Fitr, which enraged people of Balochistan, particularly Pakhtoons, as they saw it an abuse of their culture.

Afterwards talking to this correspondent, Sarfraz Nawaz said that he had handed over a letter to the committee chairman regarding alleged malpractices by the director sports PTV, who enjoys no legal cover and had  been indulging in making key appointments and also sanctioning of payments.

“The committee chairman has sought a report from the quarters concerned within ten days,” he said. Earlier the committee asked for complete information from relevant institutions about the arrest of a Quetta-based journalist Zafarullah Achakzai in June under the Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and subsequent release on bail within a week.

The formal written reply submitted by the ministry on the agenda item merely stated that Zafarullah Achakzai was booked on June 28 and bailed out on July 6, 2017. Senator Farhatullah Babar pointed out that the reply was inadequate and raised more questions and demanded to know specific charges brought against the journalist. 

The principal information officer informed that his tentative inquiries had revealed that Zafarullah Achakzai was arrested by the FIA on the complaint of a security-related institution for alleged involvement in activities that went against the integrity of the Federation. Farhatullah Babar took exception to this reply and demanded to know more details. He said the recently passed Right to Information legislation had struck a balance between considerations of national security and the right of public to know and every post on social media piece can't be declared as an issue of national security.

Babar said it is important to know details so that while no one is allowed to breach national security the security institutions also are not allowed to stifle dissent and alternate opinions behind the facade of national security. Babar said that it was mandatory under the Electronic Crimes Act that the FIA submitted six-monthly report to the Parliament, which had not been done yet. He said the FIA should be pointedly asked to provide complete information with respect to arrest and bail of the journalist. He said that media reports circulating at the time were startling and it was important to fully investigate the matter.