August 24, 2019

Journalists apprehensive about the proposed media regulatory authority

ISLAMABAD: As the government inches closer to finalizing the law for establishing a new media regulatory authority,PMRA,  journalists have expressed their concerns about it. 

Under the proposed PMRA law, the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf, PTI, government intends to establish a single body to regulate print, electronic and digital/social media. This will be done by merging the rules and acts related to Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, PEMRA, Pakistan Press Council, PPC, and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, PTA.

However, some journalist groups have criticized the proposed law as they believe that a single authority will not be the right course of action to regulate different types of media.

The idea of setting up PMRA, was floated for the first time by Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary  in August 2018. Expressing his views on multiple occasions over the past few months,  Mr. Chuadhary stated that new authority would  introduce one-window operation to address complaints and other regulatory aspects of media, save national resources and combat “fake news”. On one occasion, Mr. Fawad said that “no one will be able to defame anyone under the new law.”

According to key highlights shared by The News, the draft law aims to regulate the media through a uniform “Ethical Code of Practice”. The federal government will be empowered to issue directives to PMRA and that its decision would be final. Additionally,  a Councils of Complaints will be established which would recommend action of censure, fine against electronic, print or digital media licensees for violation of code of conduct.

Furthermore, as per the draft law, the Chairman and members of the authority will be appointed by the Federal government. Each provincial government would also appoint a member to the authority.  Apart from chairman, three members would be tasked to head print, electronic and social media divisions respectively.

While the government has shared the draft  law with different stakeholders, it seems as if some of them are not happy with it in its current shape. In a statement quoted by Express Tribune, the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors noted that “every media category had its specific issues, nature, and operating methods, and handling all media categories with one single law would be akin to ignoring ground realities.”  Lately, PCP also unanimously rejected the proposed law.

Similar apprehensions were expressed by other stakeholders including Center for Law and Democracy Executive Director Toby Mendal and IRADA Director Aftab Alam while talking to The News.  They noted that the proposed law would not make the authority autonomous. Mr. Alam called upon government for a holding a  multi-stakeholder consultation on improving PMRA and bringing it in line with the International law.

Ironically, PTI senator Faisal Javed, who currently chairs the Senate Standing Committee on Information, Broadcasting, National History and Literary Heritage, also criticized the proposed law. He called the proposal to establish a single authority for different categories of media a move “beyond understanding.” Noting that each category had its own dynamics, he said: “The draft should be presented before the committee before forming the joint body.”

It is not clear when would the government table the draft law for discussion in the parliament.

It is interesting to note that PTI’s own manifesto, released before the 2018 General Elections,  does not explicitly talk about setting up a new media authority. Rather it only calls for making PEMRA autonomous so that ” it does not become a political tool in the hands of any government.”

 

 

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