Wednesday Sep 15 2021

'Hard not to doubt govt's intentions': Media bodies cast aspersions on PMDA

  • Meeting of NA's sub-committee on information held in Islamabad.
  • PBA, CPNE representatives voice reservations on PMDA.
  • Committee seeks recommendations from media organisations.
  • Marriyum Aurangzeb says govt still "confused" over PMDA.

ISLAMABAD: Media representatives cast aspersions on the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) on Wednesday, as the proposed body and government came under sharp criticism during a meeting of the National Assembly's sub-committee on information and broadcasting.

The meeting was held with PML-N leader Marriyum Aurangzeb in the chair, while representatives from the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib, PPP leader Nafisa Shah, and others were in attendance.

The PBA representative told the meeting that it was hard not to doubt the government's intentions when it came to the new media regulatory authority, as Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had claimed channels would work towards destabilising the country.

"It is hard not to doubt the government's intentions when it says that print media is dead. It is hard not to doubt the government's intentions when it says that electronic media will shut down in the next five years. It is hard not to doubt the government's intentions when it says that advertisements will be shifted to social media," the PBA representative told the committee.

The PBA representative, citing a Supreme Court ruling, said the highest judiciary had ordered to deregulate media and asked the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to work independently.

"We have evidence which proves that [the government officials] said that advertisements to [the media organisations], which do not accept the bill, will be stopped," the representative said.

There is always space to make regulations better, he said, adding that the media representatives were ready to suggest changes in the PEMRA laws and Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA).

"I had filed 4,000 complaints under the PECA law [...] the authorities took notice of only a few of them," the representative said.

The PBA representative told the committee that the government was trying to create a divide within the media organisations.

"There is a need to update the existing regulatory framework [...] instead of bringing all media regulatory authorities under one umbrella, it is imperative that existing laws be updated," the representative said.

"You will doubt our intentions and later say that you were trying to curb fake news," the representative said, implying that the government would try to gag the press through the new body.

CPNE seeks legal definition of fake news

Meanwhile, speaking during the session, CPNE's representative said it seems that the government was in confusion regarding the bill, as it inquired why was the regime in such a hurry to get it approved.

"We will never accept this PMDA [...] the current regulatory frameworks should be made better. Instead of bringing all authorities under one umbrella, the existing laws should be improved."

The CPNE representative added that the government should explain and give the legal definition of fake news.

Government 'not clear'

PPP leader Nafisa Shah, sharing her views during the meeting, said she had heard Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and other government representatives speak on the matter and they were "not clear" in this regard.

The PPP leader said if the government wanted to curb fake news then they could do so through the existing PECA laws. "We cannot even debate clearly on this as there is no draft of the proposed law. What will the government argue about when it has no clear direction."

Where will employees of seven institutions go?

Meanwhile, PML-N leader Marriyum Aurangzeb questioned whether the employees of the seven institutions be fired if all of the bodies were brought together under PMDA.

At this, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib said: "No, the employees of the seven institutions would not be fired [...] they will be kept in a separate pool."

The state minister claimed the government was trying to bring Facebook into the tax net, which would generate huge revenue. "Digital media should be regulated."

"It was fake news that the government was going to enact an ordinance or it was going to table a bill," the state minister said, adding that the final draft was not ready and it would be completed after consultations.

Committee seeks written recommendations

Aurangzeb, in response, said that there was confusion regarding the proposed bill as the government maintains that there is no draft of PMDA to date.

The PML-N told the committee that the government has said that it would not enact the law as an ordinance, rather it would introduce it through the parliament.

Aurangzeb said: "The meeting has proposed that the existing media laws be updated and the safety laws of media workers be approved in Parliament at the earliest."

"Some media houses have completely rejected it and some have proposed updating the law. The committee has sought written recommendations from stakeholders till September 21."

It was decided that another meeting would be held next week where the committee would be apprised on the legal definition of fake news.

What is fake news?

Speaking to journalists after the meeting ended, Aurangzeb said media organisations had raised their concerns on the proposed PMDA. "The law of media workers' security would be passed in the human rights committee and then the Parliament."

We have also sought the legal definition of fake news, she added.

Habib also spoke to journalists after the meeting concluded. He told them that the government had shared the presentation on PMDA with all the stakeholders.

"All the stakeholders are aware that the existing laws need to be updated. The only difference the government and media organisations have is regarding the absence of a mechanism," he said.

Giving the definition of fake news, he said: "A news not based on facts is fake news."