ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry has said the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) will be authorised to impose a fine on TV channels of up to Rs250 million against the current upper limit of Rs1 million in existing laws.
In an interactive session with digital broadcasters on Monday, the minister pointed out that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) was 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. “Social media is dealt by the PTA, press is managed by the Press Council, the electronic media is dealt by Pemra, labour regulations are looked after by Implementation Tribunal for Newspapers Employees (ITNE), while the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) deals with newspaper registrations.”
He reiterated that all the laws were being abolished to replace them with the one authority, the PMDA. Fawad added 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.”
“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 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.
The PMDA is a proposed regulatory body that can “cater to the professional and business requirements of all forms of media and their users”, according to a government proposal, and is meant to replace the current “fractured” regulatory environment and “fragmented” media regulation by multiple bodies.
This means that according to the proposal, the PMDA solely will be responsible for the regulation of print, broadcast and digital media in Pakistan.
Under an ordinance drafted for the establishment of the authority, all previous laws pertaining to media regulation, control or indirect control will likely be abolished and fresh legislation will be enacted, giving legal cover to the PMDA and its functions.
No other body but the Supreme Court will have the jurisdiction to question the legality of “anything done or any decision taken under the PMDA ordinance”, the proposal states.
In addition to its regulatory function, the authority will determine media employees’ wages and resolve wage disputes.
The government’s proposal for establishing the new media body has drawn criticism from media organisations.
On Aug 12, all representative organisations and associations of media industry, the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND), rejected the proposed PMDA and termed the law behind it a draconian one.
In a joint statement, they had criticised the law and described the move as a step towards imposing state control over all segments of media through creation of a single over-centralised body.
They had said the PMDA appeared to be aimed at subjugating freedom of expression and of the press.
“The law is an attempt to tighten the federal government’s control over the media from one platform but ignores the fact that print, electronic and social media are separate entities with their own defined features.”