Sherry pledges to revoke Pemra ordinance -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Sherry pledges to revoke Pemra ordinance

ISLAMABAD: The government on Monday assured the Senate that all laws discriminatory to the media would be revoked, as free media was a key to strengthening of democracy.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sherry Rehman assured the House that the democratic government did not believe in gagging or curbing the media while replying to a string of speeches on a motion filed by Prof Khurshid Ahmed for discussion on the overall performance of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra).

Sherry Rehman said that all laws discriminatory to the media would be done away with after consultations with media persons and other stakeholders. “We will quash all laws which put bar on the media,” she emphasised.

The minister said that a bill would be tabled in parliament shortly on the freedom of expression and access to information and in this connection, a stakeholders’ conference will be convened on May 15. She assured the House that no bill or law would be imposed on the stakeholders and said that a due process would be followed, engaging the stakeholders through the parliament.

Speakers from both sides of the aisle slammed Pemra and said it had miserably failed to deliver, as it was designed to choke the voice of the opposition. They also blasted the previous regime for running an ‘ordinance factory’ instead of making laws through the parliament.

Some of them alleged that the television channels were airing programmes and shows that were against Islamic teachings and even national traditions. One of them referred to a recent programme on ‘Burqa’ and said it was aimed at creating hatred for the veil and charged that this was done under a well-conceived strategy.

The senators welcomed Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani’s announcement to repeal the controversial Pemra law. All the legislators were unanimous that the media should be free but not without a code of conduct and some checks and balances through parliament. One lawmaker even questioned the logic behind retaining the Information Ministry.

The minister made it clear that they would not like to hear any cables or channels being shut down by Pemra or on behalf of any other actor of the state, as this has never been PPP government policy nor it would be, adding all such practices of Pemra were black practices and should be condemned.

She defended the regulations, saying these were essential, but the role of the Ministry of Information should be of a facilitator and not of a regulator. The minister said that the media were free to thrash out, on their own, a code of conduct and maintained the ministry would be a facilitator in this context.

Preservation of democratic traditions, she believed, was possible only through a free media and the government stood for it. The minister noted that PPP leader Benazir Bhutto laid down her life for the cause of reconciliation, as she had wanted a peaceful transition to democracy.

About the Press and Publication Registration Ordinance, the minister said that it would be removed soon so that there should be no bar on publication of a newspaper. Earlier, Prof Khurshid said that through 2007 Pemra amendment ordinance, certain institutions were made sacred cows and under this, several channels were shut down. What happened to Geo and ARY and other channels was before the nation, he added. But he pointed out that as these channels were closed down, Indian television channels were allowed and they launched a cultural invasion to achieve ulterior motives, as Sonia Gandhi had once said there was no need to use armed forces against Pakistan, Indian media was doing what was required.

On the other hand, Peace Channel, which aired purely Islamic programmes, was shut in Pakistan, he noted. “The Press was harassed and what happened in Karachi on May 12 last year is a horrible chapter of history,” Senator Khurshid pointed out. Naeem Hussain Chattha of PML believed there had been surge in indecency after the mushroom growth of electronic media and said that in some TV shows, politicians were not portrayed correctly.

Prof Ibrahim said that making of laws without engaging parliament rendered the institution meaningless. He lamented that media always faced curbs for criticising the rulers, but never faced any check on showing anti-Islam programmes. Abdul Khaliq Pirzada said that the media was a means of making or breaking a society and it all depended on how it was allowed to function.

“Every government remains unhappy with media and expresses it through various laws. However, there is a need to revisit defamation law,” remarked Khalid Ranjha of PML. Senator Ranjha said that a free media without some checks and balance was a bad thing.
Source: The News
Date:5/6/2008