ISLAMABAD: A Pemra Amend­ment Bill introduced in the National Assembly on Thursday was generally lauded by the industry stakeholders, but prima facie sets new definitions related to dissemination of information, thus making it hard to be accepted without a grain of salt.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Amendment Act 2022, was introduced in the house by Information and Broadcasting Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb.

Major changes have been made in the structure as well as operation of the regulator; e.g. the number of members in the authority has been enhanced to 13 from 12, apart from its chairperson.

However, a longstanding demand of broadcasters and workers has been accommodated to some extent, as non-voting honorary members — one each from the broadcasters and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) — will be in the authority. The preamble of the Pemra law has been amended to “ensure timely payment of salary to the electronic media employees working with the licensee of the Authority”.

Among the responsibilities of the regulator, its role now also includes dissemination of ‘authentic news’ instead of just ‘news’.

The chairperson alone will not have the powers to suspend the broadcast of any channel, as under the proposed amendment the powers to stop the airing of any satellite electronic media can be delegated to ‘chairman and two Pemra members’.

The new section inserted in the Pemra law is “20A-Obligation of licensee to pay electronic media employees’ salaries timely. The licensee of the Authority shall ensure timely payment of salaries not later than two months to the electronic media employees working with it”.

Misinformation and disinformation

According to the bill, “Disinfor­mation and Misinformation has been added to the definitions in order to provide legal measurers to provide challenges of false, misleading, manipulated, created or fabricated information”.

The bill says that “disinformation means verifiably false, misleading, manipulated, created or fabricated information which is disseminated or shared with the intention to cause harm to the reputation of or to harass any person for political, personal, or financial interest or gains without making an effort to get other person’s point of view or not giving it proper coverage and space, but does not include misinformation”.

Working journalists are concerned that this would allow powerful quarters to stonewall their efforts by withholding comment, as under the new law, one-sided stories could be considered as ‘disinformation’.

The government has also made an attempt to create new definitions for these terms, as these are not compatible with those in use internationally.

On the other hand, Unesco guidelines published in 2018, gives this definition: “Disinformation [is] information that is false and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organisation or country”.

For the Centre for Protection of Journalists (CPJ), “Disinformation is the deliberate dissemination of false or inaccurate information in order to discredit a person or organisation.”

The BBC Trusted News Initiative (TNI) maintains, “Disinformation [is] false information created to harm a person, a group, organisation or a state.”

As for misinformation, the bill states that “misinformation” means verifiable false content or information that is unintentionally disseminated or shared”.

BBC TNI says that misinformation is reporting misleading information unintentionally, or information that is factually incorrect however it has not harmed a person or an organisation”.

Unesco states that “Misinformation is information that is false but not created with the intention of causing harm.

For the CPJ, “Misinformation is the sharing of inaccurate and misleading information in an unintentional way”.

PFUJ on ‘misconceptions’

PFUJ president Afzal Butt said that officials should not create any misconceptions regarding freedom of information and such laws should not be misused. He said the demand of the PFUJ was to have a complete service structure for the employees of electronic media and not just ensuring timely payment of salaries.

Mr Butt also said that both the broadcasters as well as PFUJ should have voting rights in Pemra to protect the interests of workers as well as the investors.

A meeting of the NA Standing Committee on Information has been called today to discuss the Pemra Amendment Act 2022.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2023

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