Government criticised over Pemra ordinance

August 17, 2007

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ISLAMABAD, Aug 16: The government came under fire in the Senate on Thursday for withholding the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Amendment Ordinance after bringing it on the agenda for the day.

The opposition accused the government of using the ordinance to pressure the electronic media in preparation of a code of conduct.

Leader of the Opposition Mian Raza Rabbani raised the issue when the government announced that it was laying three of the four ordinances on agenda in the house, withholding the Pemra Amendment Ordinance 2007.

Senate Chairman Mohammedmian Soomro said he would study the matter in light of past rulings. He reserved his ruling on the opposition’s demand that the ordinance be laid in parliament during the current session to enable the house to adopt a resolution of its disapproval. Senator Rabbani said it was a violation of Article 89 of the Constitution, which bound the government to lay on the floor of the house any ordinance immediately after its promulgation.

He accused the government of having mala fide intentions in the matter, saying that the ordinance had been withheld to put pressure on the electronic media to agree to a code of conduct of its interest.

The opposition leader disputed the claim of Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Kamil Ali Agha that the ordinance was not being tabled because negotiations were on between the government and media representatives and it was mostly likely to be withdrawn at an appropriate time.

Senator Rabbani insisted that the ordinance should be tabled so that it could be disapproved through a resolution.

He said the president could have asked the law ministry to issue a notification in this context but it was deliberately not done.

The chairman reserved his ruling after Mr Rabbani argued that the government was circumventing the rights of the Senate by not tabling the ordinance. “Under Article 89, it is bound to table it in both houses of parliament immediately after its promulgation,” he pointed out. He described the ordinance as a sword of Damocles hanging over the media.

He asked why the ordinance was not being tabled when neither the house, nor the media or the government wanted to implement it.

The house witnessed a heated debate between Leader of the House Wasim Sajjad and Senator Rabbani.

The chairman, sought views of Senator Sajjad, who tried to play the issue down and said Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz himself had called the ordinance dead, therefore, no one should insist on it being tabled.

He maintained that the government was not acting upon the ordinance as the media had expressed its grievance on it.