IN a rapidly evolving media landscape, there is a need to update the relevant laws to ensure press freedom, while filtering out lies and libellous content. This can be done either through dubious laws, such as the PTI government’s Pakistan Media Development Authority bill, or stakeholders can be taken on board to formulate laws that respect press freedom, while regulating the media sphere judiciously. The recently approved Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Amendment Bill, 2023, appears to strike the right balance, though there is room for improvement.
There was initially some confusion about the government’s intentions regarding the amendments, but closer scrutiny has clarified several matters. The clause calling for paying media workers’ salaries within two months should be welcomed. Though ideally there should be no delay in the disbursement of salaries, at least the law sets limits, while workers can complain to the regulator in case of delayed dues. A distinction has also been made between ‘disinformation’, which means intentionally false news, and ‘misinformation’, which relates to unintentional mistakes. These definitions align more closely with international norms, and are an improvement on the state’s obsession with ‘fake news’, a blanket term through which the authorities could clamp down on all dissenting opinions. The inclusion of a representative each of the PFUJ and Pakistan Broadcasters’ Association as non-voting members of Pemra is also positive, though to give them a real voice, they should be granted voting rights. There are some problematic sections, such as Clause 27. Under this, broadcast or distribution of a programme can be prohibited, and the matter then referred to a Council of Complaints. Instead of prohibiting content, it should be referred to the council first so that the matter can be investigated, while some parts of the clause appear overly broad. These lacunae should be examined in order to create a more balanced law.
Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2023