NA’s standing committee on information passes PEMRA amendment bill


PEMRA

ISLAMABAD, (APP): The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting on Friday unanimously approved the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Amendment Bill 2023.

The committee, which met at the Radio Pakistan with Javaria Zafar Aheer in the chair, termed the Bill a historic initiative for the welfare of journalists and appreciated all the efforts of all stakeholders, including the government, in that regard.

Besides The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill 2023, the committee also discussed The Press Council of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2023.

Minister of Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb, briefing the committee, said amending the PEMRA law was the need of the hour as the entire scenario of the media had changed.

She said the PEMRA Ordinance, which was promulgated in 2002, was was being amended first time. Its nine clauses were amended while five new ones were added.

The minister said under the amended law, for the first time media workers were being given the right to file complaints in the Council of Complaints, whereas in the past they were sacked even for demanding salaries.

Under the new bill, a three-member committee would now have the powers to close down a channel instead of the PEMRA chairman, she added.

Marriyum said in the past, an unsuccessful attempt was made to bring a black law like the Pakistan Media Development Authority.

However, the incumbent government took 13 months to prepare the amended bill as extensive consultations were held with all stakeholders, including media workers organizations and owners of media houses.

The minister said that the definitions of fake news, disinformation and misinformation had also been included in the bill. Disinformation and misinformation had been interpreted separately.

She said under the new bill, the fine for deliberately spreading false news had been increased from Rs 1 million to Rs 10 million. In the past, the channels used to take the plea that the fake news by aired by them was filed by journalists in their personal capacity, but now they (channels) would also be made accountable.

The minister said nine clauses, including 2, 6, 8, 11, 13, 24, 26, 27 and 29 had been amended whereas five news ones 20, 20-A, 29A, 30B and 39A were added to the bill.

She said in the preamble of the bill, instead of “the news”, words like “certified news, patience and tolerance, economic and energy development and children-related content have been added”.

Under the bill, the scope of public entertainment, education and information had been expanded, she added.

Marriyum said the electronic media would have to use authentic news, besides the content related to tolerance in the society, general development, energy and economic development.

She said as per the amended bill, “timely payment refers to payments made to electronic media employees within two months”.

The electronic media would be bound to abide by all decisions and orders of PEMRA and the grievance council for timely payment of salaries.

She said at the federal and provincial levels, government advertisements would not be given to the electronic media houses for non-payment of salaries.

The duration of airing advertisements would not exceed five minutes during a regular programme on the electronic media, he added.

The minister said the broadcast media licenses would be issued for 20 years and the distribution licenses for 10 years.

She said a violation falling under the category of “violation of Article 19” would be considered a “serious violation”.

Read more: Bill seeking to clip PEMRA chairman’s powers presented in NA

Marriyum said for the first time, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) had been given representation under the new PEMRA law, while the condition of not broadcasting “disinformation” had also been included in the news channels’ code of conduct.

The minister said the grievance councils would be based at Islamabad and provincial capitals to redress the grievances of the people, institutions and others.

The councils would also ensure implementation of the government policy of minimum wages in the electronic media and timely payment of wages to the employees, she added.

“The grievance council shall consist of a chairman and five members, serving for a term of two years,” she said, adding an appeal could be made against the decisions of PEMRA in the high court of the respective province.

On the occasion, MNA Nafeesa Shah said the committee members should be given time to review the amendments in the bill. On this, the minister said all the details regarding the bill had been provided to the members. Nine amendments were made in the bill, with addition of five new clauses, she added.

MNA Zeb Jafar said that the bill should be approved by the committee.

PEMRA Chairman Saleem Baig told the panel that all electronic media channels were legally bound to submit a copy of their annual audit reports every year.

 

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