ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet is set to take up and approve on Tuesday (today) the draft bill for establishment of the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA), sources in the government told Dawn.
The controversial bill has been strongly opposed by the owners of media houses and workers, but the information ministry has repeatedly expressed its resolve to establish the new authority.
The Digital Media Wing of the Ministry of Information on Monday issued a video footage of Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry with digital broadcasters, including YouTubers, where he said that declaration of around 50 percent of the newspapers in country would soon be cancelled.
He said the proposed authority would have the powers to impose a fine of up to Rs250 million for violations by the electronic media. He said internet-based entertainment channels would be bound to air at least 30pc Pakistani contents.
Despite strong opposition, information ministry expresses resolve to establish the authority
Minister of State for Information Farrukh Habib had attended an interactive session on August 12. Officials attached with several local news websites and seven YouTubers, including Siddiq Jan, Mohammad Imran, Abdul Qadir, Mughees Ali, Makhdoom Shahab and Umar Inam, also attended the session.
One YouTuber, who attended the meeting, said Mr Habib had highlighted the importance of the new authority and it was the need of time.
Mohammad Imran told Dawn that the minister had informed the meeting that the last media-related law enacted in the country was the establishment of Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) but that too was around 20 years ago, while the print media-related laws were made in the last century.
Another YouTuber said Mr Habib claimed that all stakeholders, including the media employees, had been consulted and slammed those opposing it.
Fawad Chaudhry pointed out that Pemra was a strong and updated organisation, but certain changes were needed in its powers and the new authority would impose a penalty of up to Rs250m on satellite channels for violations.
He said the PMDA would not have the powers to shut down any channel and there was no provision for criminal liability in the proposed law.
Mr Chaudhry said there would be three tiers of appeals against a decision of the proposed PMDA — the appellate commission, tribunal and Supreme court.
He said a development wing had been proposed to be established under the PMDA for capacity building of journalists.
The minister said a forum on the pattern of Implementation Tribunal for Newspaper Employees would be established for addressing the grievances of employees of the electronic media.
He said the Audit Bureau of Circulation had approved 1,672 newspapers but around 800 of them did not meet the requirements for their approval and their declarations would be cancelled soon.
Mr Chaudhry lauded the services of YouTubers and news websites for their innovativeness and what he described as taking a leap into the future media. He said the government would facilitate the growth of digital platforms and digital media.
He announced that registered YouTubers would be entitled to government advertisements under the PMDA.
The minister said that the new authority would encourage the local cinema industry and facilitate it, while the censor board would be replaced with ‘Board of Films Censor’.
He insisted that digital media would actually define the media landscape of Pakistan in future. “However, it doesn’t mean that formal media will vanish but the medium of communication will just change. Content is here to stay,” he added.
He said that currently there were seven laws regulating media in the country and all these laws would be replaced with the PMDA.
The proposed authority has already invited criticism from civil society, workers and representative bodies of media houses.
The All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, Pakistan Broadcasters Association, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors have already rejected the proposed PMDA and termed the law behind it draconian.
The PFUJ has planned to stage a protest outside the Parliament House on the day when President Dr Arif Alvi will address the joint session of parliament.
Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2021