PAPRA bill to ‘regulate’ media
LAHORE – The Federal Government has drafted a bill to set up “Press and Publication Regulatory Authority”, ostensibly with a view to streamlining and regulating the media industry, but without any consultation with the stakeholders, thus giving rise to fears among press circles that the proposed legislation would prove to be another control mechanism to influence the print media. It is a matter of great concern for general public as well as journalist community that idea of establishing a new regulatory body was not floated to elicit public opinion before preparing the draft legislation. Even the APNS members, who recently met Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, were not informed of any such developments having direct link with their professional responsibilities.
Though it is supposed to be separate and autonomous body, five out of its seven members including its chairman belong to the Government in one way or the other, and would be appointed by it. According to the proposed bill, Secretary Ministry of Information and Broadcasting shall be an ex-officio chairman of the Authority, that would work under the direct supervision of a grade 21 officer to be taken from Information Group and appointed by the Federal Government. Director General Internal Publicity, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Principal Information Officer, Press Information Department shall be ex-officio members, while one mass media educationist, to be nominated by the Higher Education Commission, would also be an official member in essence. Only two members shall be the nominees of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and the Pakistan Advertising Association (PAA) respectively, thereby showing a clear tilt in favour of the Government.
Going by its constitution and the powers assigned to this body, it is evident that the proposed regulatory body would be used intrusively as a lever on press rather than serving the purpose of putting in place a regulatory mechanism for the healthy growth of print media industry, and regulating affairs of print media-the two stated objectives of the intended new legislation. It is not that media industry would be reluctant to divulge details of its affairs, the Authority’s extensive powers of visiting and inspecting the premises of the printing presses, offices of the publications to check the record and books of their accounts on the spot, to be mainly exercised by its Government nominees under the draft bill, may become a source of greater hassle and embarrassment for the media industry. Among many of the intrusive clauses in the proposed bill dealing with cognizance of offences, one of them empowers a First Class Magistrate to pass any sentence authorised by this bill or under any other applicable law, notwithstanding anything contained in Section 32 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (Act of 1898). Further, any publisher or news agency or person who, in the opinion of the concerned authorities, violates or abets in the violation of any of the provisions of the bill shall be considered guilty of an offence punishable with a fine, which may extend to one million rupees. He/She may also face the punishment of imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both, if he/she is found guilty of repeated violation of any of its clauses.
Apart from this, the new proposed law, which is over and above other existing laws, provides no indemnity to the stakeholders against any decision of the persons exercising any power or performing any function under it.
Meanwhile, a spokesman of the APNS has noted with grave concern that the Federal Government intended to establish Press and Publications Regulatory Authority (PAPRA) on the same lines as of PEMRA. In press statement on Tuesday, Kazi Asad Abid, Secretary General, APNS said that through the enforcement of the proposed law, it appeared that the government intended to control and regulate the print media through an authority dominated by bureaucracy, and which would become a lever to curb press freedoms. The APNS has decided to hold its Executive Committee meeting on Monday, December 18, 2006 at Lahore wherein the issue would be discussed and examined in detail and a suitable strategy would be chalked out in this respect, the spokesman further stated.
Source: The Nation