Advocacy - Policy - Research

The Upcoming PEMRA Amendment : A Step Back For Media Freedom

The media commission report —a Commission set up by the Supreme Court of Pakistan— released in April last year, made recommendations for media reform within Pakistan. The report suggested that the government provide a framework for guidance with checks and balances upon the media keeping in mind that it doesn’t restrict freedom of the press. The recommendation also included a Media Law Review Task Force to ensure that this framework is established.

Although, some of the recommendations pertaining to media on the Internet are problematic, the overall objective of the media commission remains reform without impugning on free press. However, news reports have emerged suggesting that the government is mulling over plans to amend the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Act 2007 to provide the authorities with the power to ‘de-link’, effectively taking a channel ‘off-air’ in order to stop the broadcast of ‘unwanted’ content. This is no regular block, but a blackout of transmission of the particular channel targeted.

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These measures, reportedly one of the steps included in the National Action Plan under the garb of national security, will be detrimental to media freedom in Pakistan. The PEMRA act of 2007, already provides authorities with broad powers, due to the lack of definitions for broad terms like “unwanted” and “objectionable” 

“the Authority shall by order in writing, giving reasons, thereof prohibit any broadcast media or distribution service from broadcasting, re-broadcasting or distributing any programme or advertisement if it is of the opinion that such particular programme or advertisement is against the ideology of Pakistan or is likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility or endangers national security.”

Pakistan is one of the most newsworthy places in the world, with both national international media watching and covering the issues closely. In the past decade, we have seen a boom in the number of local news channels. While, there’s a significant need for ethics in reporting and responsible coverage, if implemented these measures by the Government will be nothing short of draconian. Reform cannot be brought about by dismantling transmission, but by working through a mechanism which is corrected, with an understanding the the a large part of the local news media industry has yet to evolve and improve. 

Sana Saleem is an activist working on minority rights and internet freedom. Sana was listed in Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinker's list in 2012, for her work on free speech in Pakistan with Bolo Bhi. She serves on the advisory board of Courage Foundation, which is Edward Snowden's Legal Defense Fund. She blogs at Global Voices, Asian Correspondent, The Guardian, Dawn and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She also won Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards in the same year. In 2014, she was listed on BBC's 100 Women list.

She can be found Twitter: @sanasaleem and contacted via email: sana@bolobhi.org

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