The National Assembly on Wednesday approved the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2023, which elaborates on the definitions of disinformation and misinformation.
The bill was introduced in the National Assembly (NA) on July 20 by Information and Broadcasting Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb and was unanimously approved by the NA Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting a day later.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, as well as journalists’ bodies, has expressed concerns that it could be misused and “may allow powerful groups or individuals to stonewall journalists seeking both sides of a story”.
It was moved in the NA by the information minister today and was subsequently passed.
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”.
As for misinformation, the bill states that “misinformation means verifiable false content or information that is unintentionally disseminated or shared”.
Major changes have also been made in the structure as well as operation of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra); e.g. the number of members in the authority was enhanced to 13 from 12, apart from its chairperson.
The chairperson alone will not have the power to suspend the broadcast of any channel, as under the amendment, the powers to stop the airing of any satellite electronic media can be delegated to the “chairman and two Pemra members”.
A longstanding demand of broadcasters and workers has also 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 licencee of the Pemra shall ensure timely payment of salaries not later than two months to electronic media employees working with it,” it says.
In case of non-compliance, the federal or relevant provincial governments will be intimated to stop the release of television or radio commercials to the violators till the payment of pending salaries.
The preamble of the Pemra law has also been amended to “ensure timely payment of salary to the electronic media employees working with the licensee of the Authority”.
The bill further says that during a regular programme, a continuous break for advertising shall not exceed five minutes and the duration between two such successive breaks shall not be less than 10 minutes.
The bill also authorises the Pemra to impose a fine of up to Rs1 million on a licensee who “contravenes any of the provisions of this ordinance or the rules or regulations of the code of conduct or terms and conditions of the licence” after giving them a reasonable opportunity to show cause.
Provided that in case of “severe violations”, the Pemra may impose a fine of up to Rs10m, it says.
The bill also barred civil courts from questioning the legality of Pemra’s decisions. It did add, however, that the high courts could be approached for appeal within 30 days of the authority’s decision or order.
It further says that the content of a television channel available on electronic media, including its logo and name, shall not vary and be altered, substituted or tempered on digital media or any other similar forum.