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ISLAMABAD: A proposed amendment to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) ordinance will require television channels to shift their satellite uplinks to the national satellite system – PAKSAT.

The draft bill to amend the Pemra Ordinance, entitled Pemra (Amendment) Act – 2015 will give the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) a greater role and suggests that “existing channel licensees shall shift their up-linking within 30 days to the satellite system designated by the federal government”.

A summary forwarded to the PM states: “Suparco … has also recommended prioritisation in shifting of channels to national satellite system (PAKSAT-IR) through necessary legislation, which in the instant draft Pemra Amendment Act – 2015, has been incorporated in section 31 (a-4)”.

Under the existing law, satellite TV channels can uplink their broadcasts to “a satellite in order to transmit any programme within or outside Pakistan”.

Currently, private channels uplink their programming to satellites being operated from different countries.

Sources told Dawn that the reason behind shifting channels’ uplinks from other satellites to the national satellite was to avoid the ire of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Satellite systems being operated from outside of Pakistani territory could file complaints before the ITU in case the government tried to block transmission of their client channel, sources said.

Being a member of the ITU, Pakistan is bound to address ITU complaints, otherwise the union may suspend its membership.

The proposed amendment enhances imprisonment for violators from 3 years to 5 years and the fine has been increased from Rs10 million to Rs25 million.

The draft bill proposes amendments in seven sections of the existing Pemra law, including sections 20, 27, 29, 30, 31 and 34. These sections are related to the terms and conditions of the licence, prohibition of broadcast media, power to authorise inspection, power to suspend or revoke licence, offences and penalties and complaints against the TV channels.

The bill proposes that the “Pemra chairman may direct concerned satellite operators and distribution service operators to off-air any channel in case of violation”.

Veteran media practitioner Javed Jabbar said although there was a need to introduce code of conduct for broadcast media, it should have emerged from within the media industry.

The Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) should have adopted a code of conduct on its own, he said.

He said most channels follow ethical standards during their live and recorded broadcast but “some channels tend to misuse the liberty”.

Mr Jabbar said: “Since there was no code of conduct for private TV channels, the government decided to take the extreme step of taking their transmission off-air.”

He claimed that Pemra was not an independent body and there was a need to review the eligibility and appointment criteria of its members who played a key role in recommending action against any television channel.

Published in Dawn March 25th , 2015

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