ISLAMABAD: The government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party firmly believed in fundamental, democratic and constitutional rights of freedom of expression and wished to take all stakeholders on board to create consensus on the proposal of the Pakistan Media Development Authority, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said.
During a meeting with the UK high commissioner to Pakistan, the minister said the authority was aimed at ensuring a cohesive approach to media development and efficient management besides providing one-window operation to media practitioners and the consumers.
Chaudhry further told Christian Turner the government also wanted to streamline and ease the process for issuance of the no-objection certificate for a film in order to give a boost to the industry.
He also clarified the hoax that no criminal section was included in the proposed law. Protection, perseverance and promotion of the democratic values of freedom of expression and right to criticism were vital for any democratic civilised society, he asserted.
At present, as many as seven separate governing bodies were regulating media organisations. These bodies included Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, Press Council of Pakistan, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Central Board of Films Censors, Press Registrar Office, Audit Bureau of Circulation and Implementation Tribunal for Newspaper Employees.
The minister said these authorities were scattered and, more importantly, digital media platforms were not covered under any regulatory framework.
He said that in modern times, television, radio and newspapers converged and became a part of smartphones and therefore needed a single regulatory agency. The convergence of media bodies under PDMA was essential to develop electronic, print, digital and emerging media platforms, the minister added.
Under the present mechanism of regulation, over half a dozen outdated laws regulations were in place and failed to meet the modern-day requirements of the press.
The minister said under the existing regulatory system, the redressal of public complaints consumed a long time and applications for registration, and grants of NOCs were not processed in time.
He said the new framework would address challenges and requirements for the convergent media environment as per global practices to make Pakistan a major global centre for multimedia information and content services.
“We wish to do away with outdated laws and bring a simple single law in line with requirements of the modern age, focusing on facilitation for both the media platforms and citizens,” he added.
Unlike the present system which focused on policing and revenue collection, the new authority would focus on development, innovation, digital economy, training and research, the information minister stressed.
He said the present laws related to media regulation would be abolished and new legislation finalised in consultation with stakeholders would be enacted.
The minister said transparency in all processes would be ensured through the simplification of rules and procedures. He highlighted that PMDA would have separate directorates covering the press, digital media and films and electronic media, as well as media complaints council and media tribunal.
He said Pakistan, being a democratic and pluralist society, has one of the most vibrant media that has grown enormously in terms of scale and influence, disseminating news and views round-the-clock.
He recalled 114 satellite television channels were operating in Pakistan, of which 31 were news and current affairs channels. In addition, there were a total of 258 radio stations out of which 196 were commercial and 62 non-commercial.
He further informed the high commissioner that there were 4,026 cable operators and 12 Internet Protocol television and 6 mobile television channels. Publishers in Pakistan printed 1,672 dailies and 203 weeklies.
He said that a consultation process with the stakeholders had been started and the concept was shared with the stakeholders. He said a committee headed by the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib has been constituted for consultation with private stakeholders.
Chaudhary further said the committee has held meetings with All Pakistan Newspaper Society, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, Pakistan Broadcasters Association and office bearers of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and press clubs and there was in large part a consensus over the establishment of the body.
He said social media regulation was imperative as the worth of online advertising had swelled to Rs25 billion within a few years.
He said social media advertising was growing and there was an urgent need to regulate the dollar currency flowing out of the country.
He added that an independent media complaints commission will be formed under the authority. A high court judge, or a person eligible to become a high court judge, will head the tribunal.
Turner suggested that all stakeholders be taken on board before finalising the draft. He said the stakeholders should be assured that this authority was meant for facilitation and press independence and that the right to freedom of expression would not be affected.
Chaudhary also expressed hope that the British government would review its policy of retaining Pakistan on the so-called red list of countries as the government has addressed several of its reservations on Pakistan’s Covid-19 data collection.
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