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ISLAMABAD: Senate Monday rejected The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2020, a key bill moved by Faisal Javed Khan from the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which sought to “empower” Pemra to take action against those news channels’ owners who were found involved in violating the rights of media workers, was rejected due to strong opposition to the bill from Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and other opposition parties.

At the Senate sitting presided over by Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, the PTI senator, who is also the Chairman of Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting, presented the bill, following its passage from the committee, but the opposition rejected the bill after an intense debate with treasury senators.

“It is strange that this bill which simply aims to protect the rights of media workers is being opposed. The media workers including beat reporters, cameramen and related staff are hired by several news channels without any written agreement or job contract. Often, they are not paid salaries and have nowhere to go to raise their voice. They work in extremely challenging circumstances but diligently perform their duties. Their rights need to be protected,” he said.

PPP Parliamentary Leader in Senate Sherry Rehman agreed with the PTI senator that the rights of media workers were “mostly violated by the owners of news channels”. She, however, opposed empowering Pemra to take on news channels’ owners for violation of media workers rights, saying PEMRA has a “history of arm-twisting and punishing those channels that differed with government’s policies.”

“The way Pemra was used by General Musharraf to victimise those channels that raised voice of dissent is known to all of us. When you give Pemra the teeth to interfere in administrative issues of news channels, results would be disastrous. We do support protecting the rights of media workers but Pemra is not the right forum for this purpose.” She recommended that Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) be involved, instead of PEMRA, in forging a mechanism for the protection of media workers’ rights.

Mohsin Aziz from PTI came down hard on opposition for “trying to sail two boats.”

He said “They (opposition) are trying to please both owners and employees in media industry. Either you are with employees or with owners. Don’t try to play smart. Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s a crying shame that a political party that claims to be pro-poor is opposing a bill that aims at protecting the rights of media workers.”

Former chairman Senate Raza Rabbani from PPP said: “No qualms with the intention of honourable senator (Faisal Javed) but methodology is questionable. PEMRA is a regulator and remained involved in arm-twisting of television channels. If there is any other forum - with the involvement of stakeholders — then we will most certainly support the bill.”

Leader of the House in Senate Dr Shahzad Waseem said: “We should be above party lines. A camera is insured but there is no insurance for the person operating the camera (in electronic media). It’s high time we have to play our role for the grant of rights to media workers.”

He urged the opposition senators to “contribute in this noble cause.”

Mushtaq Ahmed from Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) said: “There is trust deficit regarding PEMRA. If given powers, Pemra would be another NAB (National Accountability Bureau) and it would victimise those channels that support opposition parties. If all stakeholders are involved and a mechanism is forged for the protection of media workers’ rights, we will fully support it.”

Khushbakht Shujaat from Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) said: “This bill has been considered by the committee twice and debated over a number of times. This bill poses no threat to freedom of media. If you have to prefer stakeholders—then what are standing committees for? After passage from standing committee, if the bill has to go to stakeholders then what are we here for? It’s a breach of our parliamentary privilege. Senators from different opposition parties supported this bill in the committee. This bill should be passed forthwith.”

The chairman Senate then asked the mover of the bill whether to refer the bill back to the committee or put it up for a vote.

“Tell me a single point in this bill that threatens freedom of media,” contended Faisal Javed, the mover of the bill, addressing opposition.

Leader of the House in Senate also once again urged senators to pass the bill. “Entire nation is watching. Media is watching. Everything will come out in black and white. Let’s vote on this bill. Nation will see who stands with truth and who doesn’t,” Waseem said.

Abdul Ghafoor Haideri from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUI-F) said: “This government is so concerned about rights of media workers but it has not paid overtime allowance to employees of state-run TV.”

On the insistence of Sherry Rehman and other opposition senators, the chairman Senate finally put the bill for a voice vote, leading to its rejection.

Earlier, Senate passed another bill moved by Faisal Javed Khan; the Pakistan Environmental Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which seeks to prohibit littering at public places by imposing financial penalty on anyone found involved in littering.

The bill seeks to amend Pakistan Environmental protection Act 1997 to impose penalty of Rs 2000 to Rs 5000 on anyone found involved in littering at public places.

The House would meet again today (Tuesday).

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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