BRUSSELS (IFJ): A Media Amendment Bill, that significantly expands the country’s existing Media regulatory legislation, was unanimously passed by the country’s National Assembly on Friday (21st day of July, 2023) despite serious concerns from the sector.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), said the bill violates current labour laws for media workers and included definitions of disinformation and misinformation that are both concerning and dangerous.
PFUJ President GM Jamali and Secretary General Rana Mohammad Azeem said: “There are many points in the bill that could be used against journalists and will harm the freedom of expression enshrined in the country’s constitution. PFUJ demands a complete service structure for the employees of the electronic media, not just ensuring timely payment of salaries.”
Pakistan’s Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Marriyum Aurangzeb, introduced the regulation bill in the national parliament, recommending adjustments to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), originally introduced in 2002.
The amendments modify nine existing provisions and add five new sections of the law.
They incorporate new definitions for misinformation and disinformation and specify payment of media worker salaries by media companies within two months.
On 22nd July, Aurangzeb said that the PEMRA amendments were made to protect the rights of journalists, including digital media journalists, and represent journalist organisations.
She also said the proposal was developed in consultation with several media stakeholders.
But labour and human rights bodies, as well as IFJ’s sole affiliate in Pakistan, PFUJ, flagged key concerns with the legislation and criticized the non-inclusive nature of the industry consultations which appeared to be determined along political lines.
Key concerns were flagged over several provisions which potentially violate Pakistan’s constitution.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said the given definition of ‘disinformation’ in the bill “strays into censorship territory and may allow powerful groups or individuals to stonewall journalists seeking both sides of a story”.
So too, while the bill introduces measures to protect and guarantee the payment of salaries for electronic media workers, the bill’s proposed section 20A effectively gives statutory permission to Media owners to delay payment of salaries.
The bill stipulates payment of media workers within 60 days, which is double the period outlined in Pakistan’s existing labour laws of 30 days.
The regulator will undergo structural and operational changes as part of the amendment, with the authority expanding to 13 members in addition to the chairperson.
Broadcasters and media workers’ longstanding request was only partially fulfilled with the inclusion of non-voting honorary members in the authority, including representatives from each Pakistani broadcaster but only one from the country’s journalist federation, PFUJ, which has numerous factions.
The IFJ said: “While the IFJ acknowledges the aim of the PEMRA amendments, it is highly concerning that several provisions violate Pakistan’s labour laws and have the potential for increased government censorship.
“Pakistan’s minister for information and broadcasting has the utmost responsibility to ensure transparency and full consultation with all key media stakeholders.
“That has clearly not been the case. Legislation that doubles the time in which media workers should be paid does not protect their right to a timely and decent wage.”
PFUJ to file petition in the court to get PEMRA Amendment Bill undone:
The Executive Council of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has unanimously decided to file petition in the court to get PEMRA Amendment Bill undone and hoist black flags in Press Clubs countrywide while demanded the government to remove unnecessary conditions from health insurance to make it easier for journalists working countrywide.
In the meeting Presided by GM Jamali, Secretary General Rana Muhammad Azeem, Vice President Sheher Bano, Finance Secretary Jameel Mirza, Assistant Secretary Mian Nadeem, Federal Executive Council members and representatives of regional unions from across the country unanimously not only once again rejected the PEMRA bill but termed it as a tactic to control journalists and media houses.
The PFUJ leadership said that the government was trying to usurp the rights of journalists by using the parallel pocket PFUJ created for their own purposes by ignoring the original representative organization of journalists and the internationally recognized PFUJ.
The Federal Minister of Information has also mentioned this support in several TV shows, after which the cut-throat organization is hiding its face.
The PFUJ Executive Council unanimously approved the resolution, which endorsed the resolution passed in a joint meeting at the Karachi Press Club on Monday.
Apart from hoisting black flags at press clubs and union offices across the country, it was decided to record the protest by tying black armbands on the part of reporters in field.
In the meeting, it was decided that apart from the national level, the protest should be conveyed to all journalistic organizations at the international level.
In the meeting, it was also decided to seek an injunction against the PEMRA amendments by filing legal proceedings in the Islamabad High Court.
It was decided in the meeting that reservations were also expressed on the health insurance scheme announced by the government for journalists and it was demanded that complications be removed and it should be made easier for journalists across the country.