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NA special panel: Legal explanation of ‘fake news’ sought from govt

By Sabah
September 16, 2021
NA special panel: Legal explanation of ‘fake news’ sought from govt

ISLAMABAD: The Special Committee of the National Assembly on Information and Broadcasting sought legal explanation from the government in connection with the fake news issue.

The committee recommended swift approval of under-consideration bills for rights and safety of working journalists whereas APNS, CPNE, PBA and PRA unanimously rejected the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).

State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib clarified that the government had not prepared any legal draft so far and neither was it going to pass any ordinance in connection with PMDA. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has also raised an objection to the chairmanship of the special committee.

Presided over by chairperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, the meeting of the special committee was held in Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) headquarters where representatives of print and electronic media, PRA and journalistic organisations participated and expressed their views. Members of the committee Dr Nafeesa Shah and Ms Kanwal Shauzab also participated.

Farrukh Habib noted that the government had finalised recommendations and proposals for the authority on which Marriyum Aurangzeb replied that there was confusion whether the establishment of PMDA was legally drafted or merely a proposal and raised concern about the presence of respective law if the bill was to be made functional.

Farrukh Habib emphasised on availability of proposed framework for the law and added that laws related to media were not amended according to present circumstances. The minister showed his resolve of coming up with a dynamic law in that connection and noted that those were the first proposals, which were widely discussed, and the final decision would be taken in Parliament, a platform of collective insight. The minister showed concern that despite ignoring formal procedure for formation of the committee and opting two out of three members from the opposition, Marriyum Aurangzeb was still calling PMDA a draconian law and what stance she would hold in the committee. He noted that they wanted a meaningful discussion on the bill and that the government would not use any influence on the commission and neither the commission would mess with the operational matters of telecommunication and digital media and the commission would not enjoy any authority in this regard.

The state minister added that a number of foreign Apps were functioning in Pakistan without paying taxes and neither these Apps advertise Pakistani stuff. He added that even Netflix did not advertise Pakistani things whereas India on the contrary had implemented strict laws and enjoyed approach to every App.

Farrukh Habib noted when India was being accused on Twitter of spreading Coronavirus Indian authorities warned Twitter administration of closure of all its offices in India thus the term Indian corona was replaced by delta.

He regretted absence of such a system that could cope with such a situation and narrated when on complaint of a citizen a lower court ordered filing of petition against CEO Facebook because of a controversial post there wasn’t any law present in this regard.

The state minister emphasised that laws promulgated in Hong Kong and several other countries had been observed prior to formation of the law and about the framework. According to Marriyum Aurangzeb the proposed law was a combination of the laws of USA and Britain. Farrukh Habib said that Journalists Protection Bill had been under consideration for several years and currently it was under discussion in Human Rights Committee and that they were seeking opinions prior to making it a proper law. He added that what they demanded was economic protection of workers and prevention of fake news. The minister emphasised that there was not any law present in Pakistan to regulate social media and the draft of such a bill would be forwarded to the Law Ministry.

Nafeesa Shah and Marriyum Aurangzeb sought clarification as to what was the explanation of fake news to which the minister replied that such a bill had not been prepared so far and that such a strategy was available with Ofcom. The opposition members in the committee demanded instance of any country where all institutions worked under an umbrella to which the minister couldn’t find any instance. Marriyum Aurangzeb was of the view that under 18th Constitutional Amendment the control of print media was shifted to provinces and asked whether the control was being repatriated to the federation to which the minister replied that the government had not such intensions.

PTI MNA Kanwal Shauzab protested that their party was not given due membership in the committee and also raised objection to its chairmanship. She added that she had written a letter to the central committee as the convener of the committee had called it a black law on the road. Nafeesa Shah was of the view that the government was confused and entangled in complex matters and asked why the black law of PECA was not changed and not government institution was aware of that law. The former president of APNS Mujeebur Rehman Shami sought explanation of fake news on behalf of journalists from all over Pakistan. He asked as to why there was an uproar if there wasn’t any draft prepared. Other media organisations also supported stance of Mujeebur Rehman Shami.

The meeting was also attended by CPNE leaders Sardar Khan Niazi, Shakil Ahmed Turabi, Shakeel Masood Hussain and others.