ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain Saturday said that the PTI government firmly believed in fundamental and constitutional right of freedom of expression, wanting all stakeholders on board to evolve consensus on the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).
He observed this during a meeting with British High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr Christian Turner, who said that all stakeholders should be taken on board before finalising the draft of the PMDA. The minister said that the PMDA aimed at ensuring a cohesive approach to media development and efficient management besides providing one window operation to media practitioners and the consumers.
Fawad also hoped that the British government would review its policy of retaining Pakistan on the red list as the government has removed several reservations of the United Kingdom on Pakistan's COVID-19 data.
Fawad said that the government also wanted to streamline and ease the process for issuance of the NOC of the film in order to give a boost to the film industry. He clarified that no criminal section was being included in the media development authority law. He said that protection, perseverance and promotion of the democratic values of freedom of expression and right to criticism are vital for any democratic civilised society.
He said that presently seven regulatory bodies were regulating media organisations. These bodies, he said include Pemra, Press Council of Pakistan, Pakistan Telecom Authority, Central Board of Films Censors, Press Registrar Office, Audit Bureau of Circulation and Implementation Tribunal for Newspapers Employees.
The minister said that presently media regulatory authorities are scattered and currently digital media platforms are not under any regulatory framework. He said in the modern times television, radio and newspapers were part of the cellular mobile set and hence need a single regulatory authority. The convergence of media bodies under PMDA was essential to develop electronic, print, digital and emerging media platforms. He said under the present mechanism of regulation over half a dozen outdated laws and sets of rules were in place which did not meet the modern day requirements of converged media.
Fawad said that under the existing regulatory system, redressing of public complaints takes a long time and applications for registration and grant of NOCs were not processed in time. He said the proposed framework would address challenges and requirements for the convergent media environment as per global practices to make Pakistan a major global center for multimedia information and content services.
The minister said, “We want to do away with outdated laws and bring a simple single law in line with requirements of modern age, focusing on facilitation for both the media platforms and citizens. Unlike the present system which focused on policing and revenue collection, the new authority would focus on development, innovation, digital economy, training and research. All present laws related to media regulation would be abolished and a new legislation finalised in consultation with stakeholders would be enacted”.
He said that transparency in all processes would be ensured through the simplification of rules and procedures. He highlighted that PMDA would have a press directorate, digital media and film directorate, electronic media directorate, media complaints council and media tribunal. Fawad said that Pakistan being a democratic and pluralist society has one of the most vibrant media landscapes which has grown enormously in terms of scale and influence, disseminating news and views 24/7.
Fawad said that there were 114 satellite television channels in Pakistan out of which 31 were news and current affairs channels. He said that there were a total of 258 FM channels in Pakistan out of which 196 were commercial and 62 non-commercial. He told the ambassador that there were 4,026 cable operators in Pakistan and 12 IPTV and 6 mobile TV channels whereas 1,672 newspapers and 203 weeklies. However, over six hundred newspapers were proved to be dummies.
He said that a consultation process with the stakeholders had been started and the concept paper shared with public and private stakeholders. He said a committee headed by the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib had been constituted for consultation with private stakeholders.
Fawad noted that the committee had held meetings with APNS, CPNE, PBA and office-bearers of the PFUJ and Press clubs and largely there was consensus over the establishment of PMDA.
Fawad said that social media regulation was imperative as its advertising has swelled to Rs25 billion within a few years. He said that advertising on social media was mounting and there was an urgent need to regulate the money that was flowing out of Pakistan in dollars. He underscored that PMDA is being established to bring all the rules and respective forums under one platform.
He added that the Media Complaints Commission will be formed under the authority which will be an independent body. He said that a high court judge or a person eligible to become a high court judge would head the media tribunal.
The British High Commission suggested that all stakeholders should be taken on board before finalising the draft of the PMDA. He said that the stakeholders should be assured that this authority was meant for facilitation and journalistic independence and the right to criticism would not be affected.
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