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Panel made to amend Pemra Act to stop fake news on social media

Top Story

July 4, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan Wednesday said that there is no guideline in Pemra rules to monitor social media.

She said that false reports are not good for the government, state and any political party. She said that private lives of people are being targeted through these unguided missiles on social media.

Dr Firdous also defended the taking off air of the interview of ex-president and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, saying this was done under the rules of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra).

She explained to the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting here the grounds on which the interview was not allowed to be on air. The issue was raised by PML-N Senator Dr Ghous Bakhsh Niazi during the meeting, though not being part of the agenda.

Dr Awan pointed out that the interview was pulled off air under the Pemra rules as an under-trial suspect, who is in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) could not appear in an interview before cameras.

"The permission of the National Assembly speaker is a prerequisite for bringing in cameras into the parliament and that there was a designated spot outside the parliament for media talks,” she said.

She emphasised that the interview was conducted in violation of the rules of the parliament and Pemra rules too did not allow the broadcasting of an interview of an accused. Afterwards, journalists questioned her as to why an interview of Taliban terrorist and their spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan was allowed to go on air. She asked was Ehsanullah Ehsan an under-trial prisoner under investigation by NAB [when his interview was aired]? Was he on remand? Was he interviewed inside the parliament with three cameras?

Dr Awan acknowledged the fact that the concerns regarding fake news were coming from many sectors and emphasised that there was a collective understanding to bring forth a responsible role of media without putting any bars on freedom of expression. She was expressing her views during the committee meeting here, presided over by Senator Faisal Javed of PTI.

Dr Awan agreed that some structural reforms and empowerment was needed in Pemra but added it had to be under a set of guidelines. She said that an exercise on these issues was conducted by constituting a committee to coordinate with all government sector and private media stakeholders and the committee might guide the ministry as to how to go about it.

To this, the committee decided to wait till the proposal comes from the ministry by August to subsequently share their recommendations. The panel also formed a special committee to review Pemra Act as it decided to amend the Act to stop character assassination of people and dissemination of fake news.

The issue of fake news was raised by PPP Senator A Rehman Malik regarding character assassination of PPP leaders on electronic media. The mover observed that fake news was damaging everyone, irrespective of party or any other affiliation, and there should be a plausible and long term solution considering the ethical values of being a media person.

He said parameters are needed to be defined and a proper legislation has to be in place or else some required amendments in Pemra Act be made. The committee chairman rejected a proposal by Senator Malik to invite Zardari to the committee's next meeting. Senator Faisal Javed contended that Zardari was already a member of the parliament and another committee already existed to address the issue.

The meeting was informed by chairman state-run TV that despite limited resources, the state TV had experienced an increase of 2.5 percent in its revenue and had Rs300 million profit in the financial year that ended by June 2019.

Regarding revamping of the state TV, he said that he assumed office only two weeks ago and he was formulating a reform mechanism and a detailed briefing would require some time. The committee gave one month time for thrashing out a comprehensive plan regarding technological enhancement, human resource issues and content management.

On the status of payments to TV pensioners, the committee was told that the state enterprise had to pay a total of Rs2 billion as liability under the heads of pensions and commutation. It was told that Board of Directors has approved payment of Rs700 million and would be distributed in two weeks and this would be an attempt to clear the backlog of 2016, 2017 and then the pending payments of 2018 will be taken care of.

Dr Awan said that the state TV was under a financial crunch and efforts were being made to bring it out of the situation. Chairman of the PTV Board told the committee that being a state channel, PTV had to represent and protect the culture, value system and national interest and this does not generate commercial business.

He said that an organisation, which was paying 76 percent of its budget on staff management, could not be expected to go in profit with only 6 percent of budget spent on content. Chairman Faisal Javed reiterated the commitment to continue taking the matter up till its resolution.

The meeting was attended among others by Senators Abdur Rehman Malik, Sajjad Hussain Turi, Muhammad Tahir Bizenjo, Anwar ul Haq Kakar, Dr. Ghous Muhammad Khan Niazi, Kamran Michael, Pervaiz Rasheed.

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