TV channels broadcasting ‘unwanted’ content may be blocked

Published March 24, 2015
Pemra would require the help of the Suparco  to ‘de-link’ the signals of a specific television channel towards any satellite.—AFP/File
Pemra would require the help of the Suparco to ‘de-link’ the signals of a specific television channel towards any satellite.—AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The government is mulling the option of blocking transmission of TV channels to cable operators and television sets to stop the broadcast of ‘unwanted’ content.

For this, the government has discussed a possible amendment to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Act 2007.

Dawn has learnt that the amendments would empower the Authority to ‘de-link’ the signals of a specific television channel towards any satellite, which would ensure that no cable operator or television set gets the broadcast.

In order to do this, Pemra would require the help of the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco).

Also read: Pemra bans Mubashir Lucman’s ‘Khara Sach’

Suparco is the national space agency established in 1961 to conduct research and development in space science and space technology.

Rehan Hassan, an expert in satellite and media communications, explained that the television channels send their signals on a certain frequency to the satellite which works like a mirror in space. The satellite reflects the signals through another frequency which are received via dish antenna.

Hassan said what Suparco could do was disturb the signals by sending more powerful signals on the same frequency. It could also ‘blackout’ the transmission by suspending the signals of private television channels directed to Paksat satellite which Suparco operates.

A senior government functionary, on the condition of anonymity, told Dawn that the amendment had been drafted and shared with some officials and legal experts.

Prior to the drafting of the said bill, senior Suparco officials held a meeting with officials and lawmakers on how satellite television channels and their ‘up-linking’ works.

The government is discussing amending Pemra Act 2007 for this purpose

They (Suparco officials) explained that each television channel sends its broadcast stream to a satellite (an up-link in television lingo) which is then beamed down from the satellite to cable operators and those with individual dishes. The officials explained that the transmission can be blocked instantaneously by blocking broadcast stream to the satellite.

The government official said the proposal was among many others that were made part of the National Action Plan (NAP) devised in the wake of December 16, 2014 terrorist attack on the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar.

“The NAP deals with general security situation as well as enforces ethical standards in the electronic media,” the official further said.

He added that it was agreed then that stricter checks had to be imposed on media to control the coverage of terrorist attacks as well as any coverage that appeared to glorify terrorism or terrorists.

All these issues were discussed in the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting which also issued a detailed document proposing guidelines for the media.

However, this NA committee did not discuss the de-linking option.

The officials claimed that prior to drafting the amendment, news channels were also consulted. Apart from terrorism, the live telecast of political leaders was also discussed.

“The proposed amendment, if it is accepted as law, will allow Pemra to ensure that lengthy speeches by politicians and images of mob violence and gory scenes of terrorist attacks are not shown,” the official added.

Sources in Pemra told Dawn that Section 27 of Pemra Act 2007 provides that “the Authority shall by order in writing, giving reasons, thereof prohibit any broadcast media or distribution service from broadcasting, re-broadcasting or distributing any programme or advertisement if it is of the opinion that such particular programme or advertisement is against the ideology of Pakistan or is likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility or endangers national security.”

However, this does not provide any procedure or method for taking ‘objectionable’ or ‘unwanted’ off air.

According to officials, the pressure for mulling such censorship measures is not just coming from the government.

They argue that the Supreme Court and the high courts have, more than once, expressed annoyance over Pemra’s helplessness in suspending transmission when a channel’s content is deemed problematic.

This amendment would allow Pemra to have the power to block content, legally and quickly, with the help of Suparco.

Mohammad Tallal Chaudhry, who is a member of the Standing Committee of Information and Broadcasting of the National Assembly, confirmed that the “objectionable content” of television channels was discussed in at least three consecutive meetings of the committee.

“A meeting was held at the Pemra Headquarters,” he said. However, he added that he was not aware of any such amendment.

Despite repeated attempts, Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed could not be contacted.

Published in Dawn March 24th , 2015

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