ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights has taken notice of a proposal by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to regulate web TV and over-the-top (OTT) content services.
“I have decided to discuss the issue in upcoming committee meeting being held on February 10 and all the stakeholders, including Pemra, Ministry of Human Rights, journalists and organisations which have been working on digital rights will be called to get their opinion and input,” committee chairman Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar told Dawn.
An OTT media is a streaming service which is directly offered to viewers through the internet.
On Jan 8, Pemra floated a proposal on its website that it wanted to regulate the web TV and OTT content services.
Four organisations - Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development, Digital Rights Foundation, Bolo Bhi and Freedom Network - analysed the proposal and reached a conclusion that the idea behind the proposal was to gag independent voices.
Any attempt to gag voices is a violation of Article 19 of Constitution, says human rights committee chairman
Moreover, the proposal stated that Pemra would charge a Rs5 million fee for launching a web entertainment channel and Rs10 million for a current affairs web TV.
However, 19 organisations and 36 prominent personalities rejected the proposal, terming it an attempt to gag the independent voices that have disappeared from the mainstream electronic media and started running web TVs to express their opinions.
Mr Khokhar said the committee would be more interested to listen to the point of view of the Ministry of Human Rights as according to him any attempt to gag the voices was a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution, which assures freedom of speech.
“It seems to be a move to silence the voices. We have signed a number of international agreements and it seems that the proposal is in violation of the international regulations. The committee would not allow any step which would not be in accordance with the law,” he said.
Osama Khilji, director Bolo Bhi, an advocacy firm for digital rights, told Dawn that the proposal was in violation of human rights as it will allow only rich people to establish their web TVs.
“After our meeting/consultation in which a number of organisations and individuals rejected the proposal, Pemra said some elements have started propaganda against it. However, we believe that it is not being practiced even in a single country in the world. Web TVs can be established by spending a nominal amount but the proposal to charge Rs10 million for launching such as TV channel is an attempt to deprive people of the facility. It is an issue of freedom of expression,” he said.
He claimed that it was the domain of parliament not Pemra to look into such issues.
Meanwhile, Pemra’s General Manager (media and PR) Mohammad Tahir in a statement said there was no intention to curtail freedom of speech.
“The objective to hold consultation is that extensive growth of the web TVs and OTT market and excessive disruption by these services to traditional broadcast services have made regulators vigilant all over the world. Moreover, broadcasters/TV operators and other traditional service providers are losing their market share to the online web TVs and content providers,” it stated.
“Notwithstanding, there are also other regulatory issues which necessitate it to bring under regulations the web TV and OTT services. For example, all Pemra licensed broadcasters are subject to compliance with the code of conduct 2015 which requires the operators to have in-house time delaying mechanism and editorial control to filter out content which is not in compliance with the code etc. However, the web TVs and OTT players are not subject to any such code of conduct and other Pemra laws. Moreover, as a regulator, it is the responsibility of Pemra to provide a level playing field to all stakeholders. Since OTT and web TV operators are competing for the same advertisement or subscription revenue as the licensed operators, it is imperative that the services be regulated at par with other services. Furthermore, by regulating the web TV and OTT content services, service providers will be liable to pay taxes as per the applicable laws,” it stated.
“It has been mentioned that services that are primarily non-commercial or non-economic, and which are not in competition with television broadcasting (linear or non-linear TV) may not be classified as OTT or web TV.”
Pemra has received tremendous response from some stakeholders, including international players on the consultation process. As a result of public feedback, recommendations for regulating the web TV and OTT content will be finalised.
It is unfortunate that instead of giving feedback in a professional way and sharing concerns if any with the regulator, some individuals and organisations have adopted an objectionable way of simply rejecting the consultation process, it added.
Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2020