Senate rejects bill seeking more powers for Pemra

Published January 26, 2021
A general view of the Senate session on Monday. — DawnNewsTV
A general view of the Senate session on Monday. — DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: The opposition-dominated Senate on Monday rejected a bill proposing to give powers to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (Pemra) to look into the complaints of violation of contractual obligations by private TV channels.

The Pemra (Amendment) bill — twice cleared by the Senate Standing Committee on Information — was moved in the house by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Senator Faisal Javed who heads the panel.

While the government side criticised opposition to the bill meant for protecting workers’ rights, the opposition objected to the idea of giving access to the human resource departments of the electronic media houses on the excuse of protecting workers’ rights.

“We will not allow the government to use the backdoor for this,” said Pakistan Peoples Party parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman. She proposed talks with representative organisations such as Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Pakistan Broadcasters’ Asso­ciation (PBA) before going for any such legislation.

Former chairman of Senate Mian Raza Rabbani said there was no quarrel with the intention of the mover, but the procedure adopted was questionable. He said Pemra had a history of being used by the governments for arm twisting of channels, which faced curbs and closures.

“Now this bill proposes to give a massive leverage to Pemra by empowering it to make people answerable over human resource issues,” he said.

Besides Pemra, he said, ‘secret calls’ were made to TV anchors telling them what topic they should raise and what were untouchable.

“It would be inappropriate to equip Pemra with such a tool and we will oppose it,” Senator Rabbani remarked.

PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz observed that the opposition was blowing hot and cold while trying to please owners and employees of media houses at the same time. He advised the opposition to take a clear position on the issue.

At one stage, Senate chairman Sadiq Sanjrani suggested that the bill be referred to the standing committee concerned for a third time, but on Mr Javed’s insistence, the bill was put for voting and was rejected by majority through voice vote.

Another highlight of the day’s proceedings was about the two federal agencies said to be resisting award of electricity transmission licence to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa despite being its constitutional right under Article 157(2).

Senate chairman Sanjrani sought a statement from Minister for Energy Omar Ayub over the issue in the House on Friday.

PPP stalwart Rabbani while raising the matter in the House said that the centrist mindset against provincial autonomy ran through the political parties as well as the governments. He said the Central Dispatch and Purchasing Agency and National Transmission and Dispatch Company had opposed the award of license to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which wanted to regulate 7300MW power supply system over the period of five to 10 years.

He referred to Article 157(2) of the Constitution under which a provincial government may (a) to the extent electricity is supplied to that province from the national grid, require supply to be made in bulk for transmission and distribution within the province,(b) levy tax on consumption of electricity within the Province:(c) Construct power houses and grid stations and lay transmission lines for use within the province; and (d) determine the tariff for distribution of electricity within the province.

He said in case of any dispute between the federal and provincial governments in respect of any matter, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) was the forum for resolution of the dispute.

Balochistan Awami Party Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar regretted the attempts to mislead the people on burial of Karina Baloch, a BSO leader who died in Canada.

While rejecting the allegations that her body had been ‘abducted’, the BAP senator said when facts were distorted under an agenda, they were called propaganda.

He said she had been taken for burial in her native village under police protection. He said it was also inappropriate to label the pro-Indian activist who was part of sinister attempts to undo Pakistan as a shaheed (martyr). He pointed out that there was no foul play in her death according to Canadian authorities.

Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad urged the chair to revive the Senate special committee on holding dialogue with estranged political leaders, explaining that the people who did not pick up guns and took oath under the Constitution should be treated differently.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2021

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