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

The committee meeting was chaired by Javaria Zafar Aheer. It also discussed The Press Council of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

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

Revised Pemra law introduced in NA

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

For the first time, media workers were being given the right to file complaints in the Council of Complaints. Media workers were fired even on demanding their salaries in the past.

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’ organisations 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 Rs1 million to Rs10 million. In the past, the channels used to take the plea that the fake news aired by them was filed by journalists in their personal capacity, but now they (the 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 new 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 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 the 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”. 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 in 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 the 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.

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.

Besides the committee members, Naz Baloch, Zeb Jafar and Nafeesa Shah, Secretary Information and Broadcasting Sohail Ali Khan, PEMRA Chairman Saleem Baig and Director General Radio Tahir Hassan and senior officers from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting also attended the meeting.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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