Stakeholders to be actively involved in the consultation process of the PEMRA Amendment Bill
LAHORE – Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) is responsible for granting licenses to the country’s television channels, FM radios, and cable operators. It is also in authority to oversee and enforce PEMRA regulations. A few days ago, the federal government approved the PEMRA Amendment Bill (2023) through the National Assembly Standing Committee. The media and journalistic circles are actively discussing this bill. Now, this bill will be presented in the National Assembly. After approval from the assembly, it will be sent to the Senate. If the bill successfully obtains approval from the Senate and is signed by the President of Pakistan, it will become an act, i.e., a formal law. Since the disclosure of this amendment bill, some journalistic circles have expressed suspicions and doubts. The issue under discussion is whether the proposed amendments in PEMRA’s law aim to improve existing laws or if they may potentially restrict press freedom. As a humble student of journalism and communication studies, I have researched this matter and had the opportunity to watch a detailed interview with the Federal Minister of Information, Maryam Aurangzeb. Several news reports and analyses regarding this bill have also come to my attention. One positive aspect I noticed in this amendment bill is that the government has ensured consultation with representative journalistic organizations during the legislative process. Usually, most governments do not consider consulting relevant stakeholders. For instance, while attempting to amend the law of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, the current government did not seek the opinion of university vice-chancellors or heads of provincial higher education commissions. In contrast, in the case of the PEMRA Amendment Bill, stakeholders have been actively involved in the consultation process, including the Pakistan Broadcasters Association, which represents the owners of TV channels. PBA (Pakistan Broadcasters Association) has welcomed this amendment bill. It has been said that most of the amendments have been made with mutual consent, which is a positive development. Similarly, the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND), and several other important journalistic organizations were also part of the consultative committee and their recommendations were included in the bill. According to Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb, each point and aspect of the bill was discussed before its approval. Federal Minister of Information, Maryam Aurangzeb, claims that the fundamental purpose of this bill is to ensure the welfare and well-being of journalists and to promote responsible journalism. Hopefully, this will be the case. Time will eventually approve or disprove this claim. Governments usually do not like media freedom. However, it is also an open reality that the media itself refrains from becoming bound by rules and regulations. We are aware that despite playing a very positive role, the media does not strictly follow journalistic principles. A considerable circle of so-called journalism indulges in mudslinging, character assassination, and spreading false and baseless news on social media and in traditional media. However, no one questions them. PEMRA tries to control the TV channels according to their capacity, but it is insufficient. In the very context, one important amendment in this bill relates to distinguishing between misinformation and disinformation. If a journalist or organization unintentionally spreads false or far-fetched news, it will be termed disinformation. Intentionally spreading false or fabricated news will fall under the misinformation category. The bill also outlines the mechanism to determine a journalist’s or organization’s intent after disseminating false or baseless news.For instance, it will be observed whether the journalist or organization has taken the viewpoint/version of the person or organization about whom they spread the news, how they presented that version, and so on. This point is crucial as it will undoubtedly help curb the spread of false and unfounded news. The PEMRA Amendment Bill curtails some additional powers of the PEMRA Chairman, enhancing the authority of the 12-member regulatory body. For example, the power to shut down a program or channel was previously vested in the Chairman of PEMRA. With the amendment, this authority is now delegated to the PEMRA Authority. To ensure the media’s comfort and protection, two representatives of the media have also been included in the twelve-member regulatory authority. One member will represent media owners, while the other will represent working journalists. I don’t think any country in the world has given media the authority to be part of the enforcement, punishment, or sentencing process regarding media laws. Despite this, it is an excellent amendment for media employees. From a personal perspective, the best thing about this amendment bill is that it includes measures to ensure the timely payment of media workers’ salaries. It has been proposed that media organizations must pay their employees within two months. If any organization fails to do so, employees or media workers can file complaints with the PEMRA Council of Complaints. This provision is significant because many institutions do not take such actions, leaving employees or media workers with no option but to approach the Council of Complaints. This bill has ensured that the allocation of government advertisements is contingent on the payment of salaries to journalists and media workers. Back in 2015, a Code of Conduct was formulated for electronic media to address the same issues. Under the leadership of Mr. Irfan Siddiqui, the government committee had proposed that government advertisements should be linked to the workers’ salaries, but a consensus could not be reached then. However, the current Information Ministry has greatly succeeded by incorporating this aspect into the law. We are well aware that salary payment for journalists and other employees working on TV channels is a serious issue. Sometimes, these workers have to face delays of many months before receiving their wages. Certain media organizations take substantial amounts of government advertising funds but do not fulfill their obligation to pay salaries on time, and some employees are even terminated when they demand their rightful wages. Certainly, this amendment bill will lead to further improvements. The purpose of amendments is to bring about positive changes in the law. If, with the approval and implementation of this law, the issue of timely payment of journalists’ wages is resolved, and there is a decrease in the transmission of false news, then it will undoubtedly be a significant success of this law. I have been a member of the PEMRA Council of Complaints for several years. Many media workers used to come and file their complaints regarding salary issues. However, the council did not have the authority to address these matters effectively. With the approval of this amendment bill, the council will have the power to deal with such cases, which is positive news for media workers.
Source: The News