Pakistan Media Development Authority will be authorised to fine TV channels with penalties of up to Rs250 million, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said on Monday.
It bears mentioning that there was no provision for criminal liability in the proposed law, but “it does have the authority to impose a fine up to Rs250 million”, while the current upper limit is Rs1 million in existing laws.
During an interactive session with digital broadcasters, the minister stated that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority may be a rich organisation, “but unfortunately it didn’t spend a penny on journalists’ training, research and digital media since its formation.”
He said there were currently seven laws regulating media in Pakistan.
In this regard, the minister explained that social media is dealt handled by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority; the press is managed by the Press Council; the electronic media is dealt by PERMA; labour regulations are looked after by Implementation Tribunal for Newspapers Employees; while the Audit Bureau of Circulation deals with newspaper registrations.
The PMDA would replace all the above-mentioned laws and abolish them, he added
“Currently, organisations obtain a stay order from court in response to a notice and fine imposed by Pemra,” he regretted.
He said the censor board will also be dissolved and a new entity – ‘Board of Films Censor’ – will be established in its place.
The minister said a media commission had also been created which will have four people each from the government and media bodies and it will be headed by a chairman. “The commission will have the powers to appoint people in the proposed complaint committee and media tribunal.”
He said the media tribunal would be able to entertain complaints from media workers, adding that “many owners are opposing the formation of media tribunals, but the government will go ahead with its plan.”
Chaudhry said a new wing of development had been created in the PMDA aimed at capacity building of journalists as “continuous education” of news providers was the need of the hour.
He said verdicts by media tribunal would be final and could only be challenged in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The information minister insisted that digital media would actually define the media landscape of Pakistan in the future. “However, it doesn’t mean that formal media will vanish but the mediums of communication will just change. Content is here to stay,” he added.
Last week, key stakeholders of the media and civil society completely rejected as draconian and unacceptable both the government proposal to create a new authority to regulate the entire spectrum of the country’s media sector, including print, electronic, digital and film, as well as its attempt to wrongly claim support for it, a joint statement issued declared.
The proposed establishment of the PMDA by merging all the existing media and sundry regulators and repealing major media-related legislations is unacceptable because this entails bulldozing existing structures and mandates for the purpose of addressing government concerns rather than reforming them from the perspectives of either the media, journalists, citizens or media consumers of Pakistan.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Bar Council, South Asia Free Media Association, Asma Jahangir’s AGHS, Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan, Freedom Network, Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development, Digital Rights Foundation, Media Matter for Democracy and others oppose and reject the PMDA.
This joint statement is also being publicly endorsed by dozens of civil society organizations, human rights defenders and prominent journalists, citizens and groups. All key media industry associations including All Pakistan Newspaper Society, Council of Newspaper Editors, Pakistan Broadcasters Association and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors have already outright rejected the PMDA proposal, as have leading political parties including Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.