August 7, 2023
By Maryam Missal
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Monday rolled back the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill 2023, which reportedly curtailed the authority of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) chair, amidst fierce opposition from lawmakers and journalists.
Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzaib tabled the draft law in the senate on Saturday. In spite of opposition from several senators, including Tahir Bizenjo, Mushtaq Ali and Faisal Saleem, the bill was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting for review.
Aurangzaib informed the Senate Standing Committee that the bill had been approved by the National Assembly in a unanimous vote, following a thorough discussion with all relevant stakeholders. However, during the review on Monday, the Federal Government withdrew the proposed law citing the need to hold further discussions rather than hastily passing the law.
Furthermore, the Information Minister had previously stated that consultations were held with relevant stakeholders, including the Joint Action Committee (JAC) which consists of representatives from the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and other civil society organizations, and that their endorsement was received prior to the bill being tabled.
However, former Secretary-General of the PFUJ, Nasir Zaidi, stated that no consultation or discussion was ever held with the body or any other veteran journalists, and that the PFUJ stands strongly opposed to the draft law.
“The former body of PFUJ strongly recommended redrafting the bill and reconsidering clauses of the proposed draft of the bill,” reads a statement issued by Shahzada Zulfiqar, Former President of PFUJ.
PEMRA (Amendment) Bill 2023
According to the proposed bill, the powers to shut down channels will now reside with the regulatory body itself rather than the Chairperson. The bill also mandates a two-month window for paying minimum salaries and back pays of media workers, with stringent fines for failure to comply with these rules. Websites will be restricted from displaying content that has previously been broadcast on television, and 10% of content on channels should be “public service messages”.
According to the bill, “misinformation” is defined as verifiably erroneous content or information that is accidentally exchanged or distributed. A licensee who “contravenes any of the provisions of this ordinance or the rules or regulations of the code of conduct or terms and conditions of the licence” may be fined up to Rs1 million by PEMRA after being given a reasonable opportunity to explain their actions.
Zaidi stated that the media stakeholders do not want the authority of the PEMRA chair curtailed, rather that the Authority be made autonomous.
“A notable journalist or editor should be appointed as chair of PEMRA instead of a bureaucrat with no background in media,” he asserted.
The government’s decision to roll back the bill has been hailed by senior journalists, who continue to call for revisions before the passage of a PEMRA amendment bill.
Pemra Bill was withdrawn by the Govt because almost all parties in the coalition Govt and within the Senate opposed it. This bill was in violation of many Supreme Court verdicts. Hope that new bill will be formulated after proper consultation and in the light of Media Commission… https://t.co/sXWisH3xpx
— Hamid Mir حامد میر (@HamidMirPAK) August 7, 2023