President Dr Arif Alvi on Tuesday approved the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) (Amendment) Bill, 2023 under Article 75 of the Constitution, according to a press release from the President’s House.

Former information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb hailed the bill becoming law and said it was a joint achievement of media workers and media houses.

An earlier press release said the president assured media workers and the journalist community of his support for the bill during a meeting with a delegation of representatives of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Pakistan Broadcasters Association, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors.

The president appreciated the collective efforts of the media community for introducing amendments to the Pemra law, especially to protect the rights of media workers, the press release said.

He said that the linking of government advertisements with the payment of dues to electronic media employees would help address their issues.

The president discussed in detail various aspects of the bill with the visiting delegation, adding that the amendment bill had brought improvements to the existing media law.

The president also asked the members of the delegation to volunteer to educate the youth about fake news and disinformation.

He highlighted that teenagers were among the “most vulnerable populations to the scourge of fake news” and they needed to be educated and sensitised about its implications.

He remarked that the media, especially senior journalists, should enhance linkages with academia and universities to guide and educate students about fake news and new developments taking place in the field of journalism.

The president also urged the need to promote diversity of thought and opinions by promoting dialogue in society and the free exchange of ideas.

He said that the dynamics of new forms of media, especially social media, should be understood, adding that it was the “responsibility of media to educate the people on morality and the use of social media in a responsible and constructive manner”.

The delegation briefed the president about various provisions of the new bill that would benefit the journalist community as well as media employees, the press release said, adding that the delegation thanked the president for his support and for taking an interest in addressing the issues faced by the media community.

Bill’s passage

The bill — aimed at streamlining the procedures to register and monitor ratings of TV channels as well as elaborating on the definitions of disinformation and misinformation— was first presented in the National Assembly (NA) on July 20 and passed on August 2.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) as well as journalists’ bodies had expressed concerns that the law could be misused and “may allow powerful groups or individuals to stonewall journalists seeking both sides of a story”.

Additionally, broadcasters had expressed concern over the government move and said that the powers to monitor the rating agencies should be given to advertisers.

On the last day of its tenure on August 9, the Shehbaz Sharif-led government had managed to get the bill passed from both houses of Parliament after some last-minute changes.

Former NA speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf had put the bill to the house for approval hours after its passage from the Senate, which had witnessed a heated exchange of arguments between the former infor­ma­tion minister, who presented the bill, and opposition members.

According to a Dawn report, supporters of the bill, including journalists, media workers, and their representative bodies, had lobbied for the bill before it was cleared by the Senate and NA.

That came after Aurangzeb’s announcement to withdraw the bill when some senior anchorpersons opposed it in a meeting of the Senate committee on information.

The opposition members and committee chairperson had opposed the government’s move to bring the legislation for a vote in the NA following the minister’s act of withdrawing it from the committee.

Aurangzeb, however, had forcefully explained the circumstances forcing her to withdraw the bill and said that with the consultation of the stakeholders, she had decided to seek approval of the bill with two amendments, including the one related to the appointment of Pemra chairman through the parliament.

The opposition members were of the view that the bill should again be referred to the committee with the new amendments. However, the information minister and the law minister had urged the chairman to put the law for a vote since it was the last day of the NA.

According to the Dawn report, a controversy had arisen over the bill due to a power play between some anchorpersons and their supporters, against a vast majority of journalists representing the PFUJ and Parliamentary Reporters Association who were supporting the bill.

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