NA passes Pemra amendment bill elaborating on disinformation

In a significant move, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2023, has been given the green light by the National Assembly. This bill aims to provide more clarity regarding the definitions of disinformation and misinformation.

Presented in the National Assembly on July 20 by Information and Broadcasting Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, the bill received unanimous approval from the NA Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting the very next day.

However, concerns have been raised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and journalists’ bodies, who fear that the bill may be misused, granting powerful groups or individuals the ability to hinder journalists seeking unbiased reporting.

Today, the information minister moved the bill in the NA, and it was successfully passed.

According to the bill, “disinformation” refers to verifiably false, misleading, or manipulated information that is intentionally disseminated to harm someone’s reputation, harass individuals for political, personal, or financial gain, without presenting their side of the story or giving it proper coverage. However, it excludes misinformation from its scope.

As for “misinformation,” the bill defines it as verifiable false content or information that is inadvertently shared or disseminated.

Furthermore, significant changes have been made in the structure and operation of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra). The authority now comprises 13 members, including the chairperson.

Notably, the chairperson alone does not have the power to suspend any channel’s broadcast. Instead, under the amendment, the authority can delegate the power to stop the airing of any satellite electronic media to the “chairman and two Pemra members.”

In response to longstanding demands, the authority now includes non-voting honorary members, one each from the broadcasters and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).

The bill emphasizes the timely payment of salaries to electronic media employees by the Pemra licensees. In case of non-compliance, relevant government authorities will intervene to stop television or radio commercials until pending salaries are paid.

Additionally, the preamble of the Pemra law has been amended to ensure timely salary payments to electronic media employees working with the licensee of the authority.

Regarding advertisements during regular programs, the bill limits continuous breaks for advertising to five minutes, with at least 10 minutes between two successive breaks.

Moreover, the bill grants Pemra the authority to impose fines of up to Rs1 million on licensees who violate any provisions of the ordinance, code of conduct, or license terms and conditions. In cases of severe violations, the fine can go up to Rs10 million.

Civil courts are barred from questioning the legality of Pemra’s decisions, but the bill allows for the option of appeal to the high courts within 30 days of the authority’s decision or order.

Lastly, the bill explicitly states that the content of a television channel, including its logo and name, must remain c4onsistent and not be altered, substituted, or tampered with on digital media or any similar platform.

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