Pemra should be under parliament instead of executive
ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage on Wednesday decided to form a task force, comprising legal experts to review 64 laws related to the media in the country.
With reference to the recommendations by the Media Commission, appointed by the Supreme Court in 2013, the Standing Committee agreed to the actions and proposals and adopted the resolution as follows:
* In the age of independence of media, globalization, IT and information, it is important to have a specific role of the Ministry of Information for policy setting, to facilitate media development with freedom and accountability.
* Review of the existing 64 laws on media is critical. New laws are equally required, specifically for advertising regulation, convergence, cross media ownership negative impacts, and self-regulation. The Standing Committee will be having special meetings with legal experts on this critical subject soon and will be appointing a Media Laws Review Task Force with a six-month mandate to examine 64 laws and to propose amendments as well as new laws where required.
* Make Pemra truly autonomous and accountable to parliament and not to the executive. Thus a change in mode of appointment of chairperson and its members along the lines of the ECP is recommended.
* The existence of a Ministry of Information is important. However, its restructuring is critical. The ministry and bodies, under the purview of the ministry, have assured the committee that their restructuring plans would be presented within one month to the committee.
* Ministry of Information and IT can be merged due to new areas of convergence. A new name for the ministry to be Ministry for Public Information, Media and National Heritage.
* Create a single new integrated regulatory body by merging Pemra, PTA including cinema on the lines of OFCOM in the UK. In the cinema sector, there is a need to ensure inter-provincial harmony in the implementation of censorship rules in the provinces. All foreign films to be censored by the federal government. Provincial censor boards should include federal representation.
* Policy to ensure minimal time for Pakistani content on TV and radio to be strengthened.
* Public, regular, structured dialogue of government and regulatory bodies with all stakeholders relevant to electronic media is necessary. Similar regular structured dialogue with non-media stakeholders i.e civil society, is extremely important.
* Judiciary should conduct expeditious and conclusive disposal of the large number of stay orders, obtained by TV and radio against Pemra as at present even non-licensed TV channels are operating freely.
* Actual compliance should be ensured by media of their own codes and transparency by appointing internal ombudsman and compliance coordinators to respond to complaints and concerns of citizens.
* Temporarily freeze (except community licenses) issuance of licenses for new TV channels as cable TV distribution capacity is already saturated and until transition to digital technology.
* Ensure effective actions by government authorities to prevent smuggling and sale of DTH set top boxes.
* Ensure licenses are issued for valid, eligible community radio stations and community TV channels with safeguards.
* PTV, PBC, APP should be transformed into genuine public service entities which are even handed and fair for them to be consistent with Article 19. New system should be introduced for appointment of chairman, CEO and board of directors. Government should look into options for restructuring the ownership of PTV, PBC and APP to make their ownership more broad-based and public service oriented.
* A new law is required within which self-regulation by media, can be conducted in a transparent and accountable manner, so that self-interest doesn’t substitute self-regulation in media.
* The funding for Press Council to be equitably shared by media proprietors (such as APNS) and other segments in order for it to be independent. Alleged corrupt practices indulged into by media and government should be investigated and discouraged.
* There is a need for more effective practice of existing codes by media themselves.
* Strict effective action is needed by Pemra and Press Council to prevent excesses by media against public figures, thereby preventing unfair defamation or ridicule of public figures. Strict action needs to be taken by the Council of complaints appointed by Pemra which could include parliamentarians to prevent unfair defamation.
* Forensic audits should be conducted to determine whether corruptions occurred in award of advertising contracts by NAB, FIA, etc.
* There is a need to rationalise the principles on the basis of which advertising rates are determined for placement of govt advertising in print and electronic media so as to end the discrepancies. Government should propose single transparent policy for awarding advertisement.
* There is a need to reform the system by which advertisements of federal and provincial governments are placed by restructuring the Audit Bureau of Circulation and inducting reputed firms from private sector to make ABC credible; and by other methods such as possible decentralization.
* ECP is urged to implement recommendation of Media Commission to ensure transparency in use of funds for advertising in the forthcoming local government elections. Pemra should facilitate preparation of options for new revenue model for TV channels to reduce existing 100% dependence on advertising.
* More effective regulatory actions are required to reduce imbalanced interruptions, disruptions, intrusions of advertising on TV and radio.
* Secret funds have been abolished. Second list will be presented to the committee and to the public after audit or as per SC instructions.
* It is considered opinion of the committee that Pemra has not satisfactorily addressed the concerns raised by the Media Commission Report regarding: the restructuring of Pemra, autonomy of Pemra from executive, Direct Parliamentary Purview & Oversight of Pemra, review of the Pemra Act 2002 (Amended 2007) and Private Monopolies in Media created as a result of the Amended Pemra Act 2007.
Unfortunately without addressing these core issues, it is difficult to conceive that PEMRA will be able to respond to the challenges it faces as an independent media regulator. It is therefore recommended that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting should undertake an immediate examination of these concerns, with a clear deadline in mind, to suggest the best ways and means to implement the recommendations of the Media Commission.
* Ministry of Information has committed itself to help improve security for journalists and media. However, it has not presented any coherent plan so far. It needs to present an overview of its security plan, which it has designed after its consultations with the various media organisations. Ministry also needs to give action plan on the Committee of Information recommendations on the same.
* The existing reliance on an predominantly big cities audience measurement system to determine TV ratings should be replaced with new alternative options which accurately reflect the countries demographic realities.
* As per commitment made by PBA to the media commission, the actual rates charged by PBA members should be placed on the Internet and transparency ensured on the assets, income, expenses of media proprietors and senior journalists including TV anchors.
MNAs Parveen Masood Bhatti, Arifa Khalid Pervez, Marriyum Aurangzeb, Imran Zafar Leghari, Belum Hasnain, Murad Saeed, Dr Muhammad Azhar Khan Jadoon, Saman Sultana Jafri and Naeema Kishwer also attended the meeting.
Meanwhile, Secretary Information Dr Nazir Saeed informed the National Assembly’s Standing Committee that on the issue of access to information, the government adopted a private member bill, which was approved by the Senate. However, the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and some other stakeholders wanted to give their input in the proposed law. Now, he said, the bill had been sent to the cabinet, and then it would be sent to the Senate again for approval.
He said on the directives of the prime minister, the ministry was working on restructuring of public sector autonomous organisations and a ministerial committee headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was also constituted to look into the matter.
Senior journalists Hamid Mir and Absar Alam said media houses and senior journalists should be bound to declare their income and assets through the Federal Board of Revenue. They also urged the committee to issue directives for the release of second report about recipients of secret funds form the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
It was said the second list carrying the names of those media persons who received funds from secret funds would be made public soon after completion of the audit.
Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Pervaiz Rashid said he had no objection to making public all lists related to release of secret funds.