ISLAMABAD: A day after it was presented in the National Assembly, the NA Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting on Friday unanimously approved the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Amendment Bill, 2023.

The chairperson of the committee, Javaria Zafar Aheer, termed the bill a historic initiative for the welfare of journalists and lauded efforts of all stakeholders in this regard.

The committee also discussed the Press Council of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill, 2023, and decided to hold further deliberations over it in the next meeting of the committee.

Pemra chairman Saleem Baig told the committee that all electronic media channels were now legally bound to submit a copy of their annual audit reports every year.

Bill to amend Press Council law to be discussed at next committee meeting

Briefing the committee, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said one representative of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and one from Pakistan Broadcasters’ Associa­tion (PBA) will be non-voting members of Pemra and it will reduce the communication gap between the regulator and other stakeholders.

She said that definitions of ‘disinformation and misinformation’ had been included in the bill and that these definitions had been finalised by senior experts of the media industry.

“Amending Pemra law was the need of the hour as the entire scenario of the media has changed,” she said, adding that in the past, an unsuccessful attempt was made to bring a black law like the Pakistan Media Development Authority, which was rejected by all stakeholders even before any draft finalised.

Ms Aurangzeb said that the incumbent government took 13 months to prepare the amended bill and extensive consultations were held with all stakeholders, including media workers, the representative bodies and owners and managements of the electronic media.

“Under the amended law, media workers have now been given the right to file complaints with the Council of Complaints of Pemra, whereas in the past they were sac­ked even for demanding payment of their salaries,” the minister said.

She said that under the new bill, the fine for deliberately spreading false news had been increased from Rs1 million to Rs10m.

“In the past, the managements of electronic media channels used to take the plea that the incorrect news aired by them was filed by journalists in their personal capacity, but now the channels would also be made accountable for such a mistake,” she said.

Under the new bill, a three-member committee, which inclu­des the Pemra chairman and two members, will have the powers to suspend the transmission of any media channel instead of the right enjoyed only by the chairman as it was in the current law.

She said that Pemra Ordinance, which was promulgated in 2002, had been amended for the first time with the addition of five new clauses and amendments to nine clauses.

Under the bill, the scope of public entertainment, education and information had been expanded, she added.

The committee meeting was attended by Naz Baloch, Zeb Jafar and Nafeesa Shah apart from officials.

The minister said that the payment of salaries to electronic media employees had been ensured in the proposed amended bill and if any electronic media employee does not get his/her salary for two months, he/she can lodge a complaint with the electronic media regulator.

“Pemra will have the powers to forward recommendations in this regard to the federal and provincial government and eventually the government advertisements to such electronic media houses would be stopped unless they clear the dues of their employees,” Ms Aurangzeb said.

She also said that the violation falling under the category of “violation of Article 19” would be considered a “serious violation”.

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2023

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