ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting on Monday discussed various issues, including bans and censorship on the electronic media by the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and the proposed ‘media tribunals’.
The committee expressed concern that Pemra was unable to maintain effective control on private channels, due to the absence of a solid policy.
Pemra chairman Saleem Baig told the committee that action was not taken unilaterally, but on the basis of reports filed by the Council of Complaints. He explained that of the fines amounting to Rs15 million imposed on various satellite channels for violations over the past six months, only Rs1m had been received as the channels had obtained stay orders from courts and filed appeals.
The committee directed Pemra to come up with proposals to remove lacunas in the existing legislation to streamline the system of private media channels.
Ministry told to introduce legislation for job security of media persons
Additionally, it directed that the relevant ministry must support Pemra in the timely compensation of aggrieved media persons as it was reported that a large number of media persons had lost their jobs. The information ministry was told to introduce effective legislation to provide job security to media persons.
Since the committee chairperson Mian Javed Latif, who belongs to the opposition PML-N, was on leave, Javeria Zafar Aheer of the ruling PTI presided over the meeting.
There was only a brief discussion on agenda item number five — stark violations of freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Constitution, by Pemra — and agenda item number six — banning and censorship of political leaders’ narratives and activities.
The committee members belonging to opposition parties severely criticised the proposed ‘media tribunals’.
Maryam Aurangzeb of the PML-N said the committee members were not in favour of media tribunals and added that it was the responsibility of the committee to ensure the protection of the rights of journalists. She said Maryam Nawaz was a citizen of Pakistan but her public gatherings were not given airtime, allegedly under Pemra’s directives.
She sought a briefing on PTV reforms announced by former information minister Fawad Chaudhry. Officials agreed to give an in-camera briefing on the matter at the next meeting.
Dr Nafisa Shah of the PPP expressed annoyance over non-issuance of production orders for committee members Asif Ali Zardari and Khawaja Saad Rafique, saying the NA speaker should not interfere in the affairs of house committees.
The meeting was delayed by around 35 minutes and soon after it got under way, Engr Usman Khan Tarakai pointed out that the draft bills had not been received in time. “We need time to prepare for the meetings and this is only possible after a thorough reading of the documents,” he said.
Before the committee could discuss the items on the agenda, Dr Shah protested that the committee meetings had been delayed only to avoid the issuance of production orders for Mr Zardari and Mr Rafique.
The committee deferred the first agenda item — the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (Amendment) Bill), 2019 — till the next meeting, after a brief discussion.
Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2019