ISLAMABAD: The information minister has disapproved of an amendment bill introduced by the ruling party’s lawmakers in Senate that seeks to exclude both the houses of the parliament from the ambit of the Right to Information Act.

“Since the government wants transparency in governance and the parliament’s proceedings, it does not want to keep any information secret from the nation,” Fawad Chaudhary said at a meeting of the upper house’s standing committee on information on Monday. Senator Faisal Javed chaired the proceedings, during which the committee started deliberations on the Right of Access to Information (Amendment) Bill 2020, referred to it on Jan 25 this year.

Senator Javed lamented the absence of the bill’s movers from the meeting.

The bill has been moved jointly by Sajjad Hussain Turi, Walid Iqbal, Mohammad Ali Khan Saif, Manzoor Ahmed and Mirza Mohammad Afridi, all PTI members.

The draft proposes that the Senate and the National Assembly be excluded from purview of the law in order to maintain sanctity and privacy of parliament.

Senator Irfan Siddiqui (PML-N) said the bill smacked of double standards, wondering how the legislature could seek exemption for itself from the act after bringing all other public bodies within its purview.

Discussion on the proposed amendments was deferred to be taken up in the next committee meeting since the movers of the bill requested the committee to put off the deliberations.

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar (PPP) pointed out that the committee was being criticised over the bill while the movers appeared to have no interest in proceedings.

He suggested the bill be rejected in case the movers did not show up at the next meeting.

PTV affairs

The committee later took up compliance report on the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTVC).

The PTVC had been asked to provide a plan of lands and buildings under its administrative control, along with the optimisation plan of lands and buildings under administrative control of Radio Pakistan.

The PTV officials informed the body that the organisation was in the process of revaluation of its lands and buildings scattered across the country.

“It is a gigantic task and will be completed through a third party for which the tender has been issued. As soon as the revaluation process is finalised, the next phase regarding optimisation and utilisation plan of these lands and buildings will be submitted to Senate’s standing committee,” an official explained.

The committee, in its previous meeting, had sought province-wise and category-wise lists of all contractual employees recruited by PTVC over the last five years. Senator Irfan Siddiqui pointed out that there seemed to be a disparity between salary packages of the employees.

“There are some employees whose salary has increased in last five years and yet there are some who are still getting the same salary throughout the same period without any increment. What sort of a system is being followed by PTV.

“Daily wage workers are being discriminated against,” he observed.

Irfan Siddiqui suggested that daily wagers be given a contractual job, to begin with.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary said in his reply that PTVC recruited candidates on merit-cum-need basis from time to time. Most of the recruits are dependents of deceased employees.

The minister bemoaned the role of previous governments in making “unnecessary appointments” on political basis. “We have introduced a system of public private partnership, leaving limited liability on part of the government. We are going to upgrade PTV Sports transmission to HD quality,” Fawad Chaudhary added.

He said human resources management was a key area and it should be allowed to make policies without any outside interference. It should be left to professionals to decide what is best for an organisation.

“We have hired a top HR firm to frame policies in the best interests of the state media.”

Committee chairman Senator Faisal Javed directed the PTV officials to rationalise the HR policies. “We should not concentrate on whatever wrong has been done in the past”.

Senator Javed pointed out there seemed to be disparity in salaries, stressing the need for a proper structure for PTV employees.

He directed PTV officials to submit a list of employees hired since 2008.

Live coverage

Fawad Chawdhry informed the committee that his ministry intended to run the PTV’s live coverage of parliamentary proceedings on a commercial basis.

“Private TV channels should pay if a live feed is provided to them by PTV.”

The minister had given a briefing to the committee on the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) during its previous meeting.

Senator Javed enquired about the progress made on the matter. Fawad Chaudhary said the draft bill for PMDA would be finalised in consultation with all stakeholders.

Senator Javed, the committee’s chairman, said: “We will discuss and give feedback once the draft of PMDA bill is shared with the committee.”

The committee then took up the matter of delivery of public service messages (PSM) through mass media. Officials of PTV informed it that PSM were being broadcasted regularly on PTV. Faisal Javed asked as to why private TV channels did not run public service messages during prime time.

“Dedicating at least 10 per cent of advertising airtime to public service messages is a part of licencing agreement with private TV channels,” the senator contended.

He called for a report from Pemra on the matter and asked officials of the Pakistan Broadcasting Association to come up with a reply at the next meeting.

The meeting was attended by Senators Irfan Siddiqui, Aon Abbas Buppi, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Anwar Lal Dean, Naseema Ehsan and officials from the information ministry and PTV.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2021

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