Committee takes up objections to Pemra bill today -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Committee takes up objections to Pemra bill today

Asim Yasin
ISLAMABAD, December 16, 2005: The Mediation Committee of the both the houses of the Parliament will meet today (Friday December 15, 2005) to take up the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) bill that was passed by the National Assembly in May last but failed to get approval from Senate within the mandatory period of 90 days.

This is the first meeting of the Mediation Committee, a new instrument incorporated in the Constitution under the 17th Amendment that is designed to take up bills on which there is disagreement between the National Assembly and the Senate.

Under the previous constitutional provisions before the introduction of the Legal Framework Order (LFO) and 17th Amendment, a contentious bill had to be taken up in the joint sitting of both the Houses.

Media bodies have voiced concern over the new provisions in the Pemra bill while conveying their fear that it will infringe upon the media freedom by vesting vast powers in the hands of the executive to prosecute and punish journalists.

The government however denies this and says that the bill was aimed at allowing cross media ownership. Under the constitutional provision the committee is chaired by a member of the house where the bill originated while another member from the other house is nominated as vice chairman.

As the bill originated and was passed in the National Assembly the Committee is chaired by the Minister for parliamentary Affairs Dr Sher Afgan Niazi. Federal Minister Senator Abdul Razzaq Thahim is the vice chairman of the Mediation Committee.

Other members of the Committee include Minsiter of state for Law Shahid Akram Bhinder, Minster of State for Information Technology Ali Asjad Malhi, MNAs Begum Bushra Rahman, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Malik Allah Yar Khan, Mrs Samia Raheel Qazi, Meer Aijaz Hussain Jhakrani and Senators Mian Raza Rabbani, Mrs Tanvir Khalid, Mrs Tahira Latif, Muhammad Amjad Abbas, Shuja ul Mulk, Kamran Murtaza and Farhatullah Babar.

Senator Farahtullah Babar of the PPPP has formally moved the Chairman of the Committee to open the Committee’s proceedings to the media. In a letter to the Chairman he said that the bill was of ‘critical importance for the freedom of media’ and must be made open to the journalists.

Various representative bodies of the media including PFUJ representing the working journalists, FM Association of Independent Radios, and the Pakistan Broadcasters Association representing the TV channel owners have described some provisions of the amendment as threatening the freedom of the press and basic fundamental rights of the citizen.

International media bodies like ‘Reporters Without Borders’ have also expressed similar apprehensions and voiced concern. Senator Farhatullah Babar said that refusal to invite media to the meeting would only invite adverse comments from the media bodies that have high stakes in the passage of the new law. “It is also important and desirable so that a one-sided version of the proceedings is not given to the media either by the government or by the opposition,” he said.

According to the agenda circulated for today’s meeting the foremost objectives of the bill is to give effect to cabinet decision of 12-07-2003 to do away with cross media ownership restrictions.

Other stated objectives of the bill as contained in the official agenda are to amend technical definitions, enhance membership of the Authority, strengthen regulatory mechanism, strengthen the role of Council of Complaints as a mediator between the Authority, the licensees and the general public and to strengthen the accountability mechanism.
Source: The News