Amended Pemra bill termed a setback to press freedom
KARACHI, May 20 2005: The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on Thursday termed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Amendment Bill-2004, passed by the National Assembly on May 16, a setback to freedom of expression in Pakistan. “By passing the Pemra Bill, the National Assembly has set the stage for a tightened government grip over broadcast media,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren in a statement mailed to the media. Warren also termed the so-called claim of lifting restrictions on cross-media licensing a sham. “In fact, the Pemra under Clause 27 can impose a ban on channels in the name of national interest, national security, ideology of Pakistan and vulgarity – all of which are subjective notions,” he said.
Warren said the Pemra made violation of the bill a cognisable and compoundable offence, with sentences up to three years and heavy fines of Rs 10 million (168,000 dollars).
“Further, there are at least six to eight clauses, which need debate among media organisations, before placing it for approval in the upper house. It is most regrettable that even the National Assembly Standing Committee passed the amendments without debate,” said Warren.
The intention to tighten control over the burgeoning electronic media was evident from the increased government representation on the Pemra, he said, adding the portents of this trend were evident in the recent government ban on the broadcast of the BBC news on FM-103.
The IFJ, the global organisation representing 500,000 journalists worldwide, expressed its concern over the composition of the 13-member Pemra, dominated by nominees of the President, with only token representation of other sectors. He pointed out that the important clauses like the three-member committee, headed by a retired Supreme Court or high court judge to oversee the complaints, had been deleted.
The Pemra had been given complete power to grant exemption from any provisions, which it deemed fit. Previously, this provision was conditional and was based on certain criterion drawn up in conformity with the principle of equity as enshrined in the Constitution, he said.
“All attempts to control the media and restrict the freedom of expression must be condemned in no uncertain terms,” said Warren.
Source: Business Recorder