NA committee meets to discuss war time recommendations for media

ISLAMABAD: A meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage was held here at Parliament House on Tuesday to discuss war time recommendations for the media, and an effective set of mechanisms to counter the narrative of violent extremists and terrorists in Pakistan.

This was the 19th overall meeting of the Committee and the second to discuss war time recommendations for the media.

The meeting was presided over by Ms Marvi Memon, MNA / Chairperson of the Standing Committee. Members of the Committee were joined in the meeting by a range of media and civil society stakeholders who were asked to provide their input and feedback on the various proposals discussed in the previous meeting of the Standing Committee.

The Standing Committee presented a set of proposed changes to existing laws and regulations governing public discourse and behaviour on broadcast and social media. The proposed changes were drafted on the basis of the recommendations made in the previous meeting of the Committee.

A full and thorough discussion of each proposed change took place. Representatives from the Pakistan Broadcasters’ Association (PBA), the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), as well as experts on the media and public discourse participated in a rigorous debate.

A number of executive agencies were represented and were asked to explain various facets of their working, these included the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication, and t Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA).

Among the issues discussed were the range of pre-existing sections of laws that, if implemented, would constrain the space for violent extremism and terrorism in the national discourse, such as Section 123 of the Pakistan Penal Code, and Section 27 of the PEMRA Ordinance 2002.

One of the major issues discussed was how to ensure that 10% of the programming of channels would be dedicated to public service messaging, as per existing law. The Committee asked PEMRA and the broadcasters to devise a way to agree on the specific mechanism of determining what constituted public service messaging, as there was substantial disagreement on this point.

In addition, the members of the Committee and other participants discussed proposals to including: restrict the broadcast any “direct and quoted statements, confessions, threats of violence from…” members of proscribed organizations.

Restrict the broadcast of any “information about any threat of violence issued by any person suspected of being involved in any of the Scheduled Offences…”Restrict broadcasts “that includes scenes of blood, body parts or dead bodies or scenes which show lack of respect to the victims and their families…”

The Committee’s other recommendations included limiting the sensationalism of violence and brutalities and a range of other ideas about how to restrict and constrain the room for violent extremism.

The PBA, CPNE and APNS representatives shared a number of reservations and concerns about some of the recommendations. The Standing Committee expressed their strong resolve to propose changes that would be effective, but stated their will to ensure that all stakeholders felt ownership of the process and the outcomes.

The Secretary, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage, along with PEMRA representatives and the stakeholders agreed to resolve the following issues within fifteen working days:

a. formulation of a media code of conduct, acceptable to both the regulator and broadcasters

b. the broadcasters would fulfil their legal obligation to provide the names of members of the editorial boards of the respective channels to PEMRA, and to facilitate the inspection of the channels’ delay mechanism equipment

c. resolution of the exact and specific definition of “glorification” of terror acts, so that there is no confusion for broadcasters.

In addition to broadcasting, the Committee also discussed the impact of social media on the national discourse and the need to constrain the space for violent extremists in that space. The group endorsed the proposal that mechanisms to track social media for abuse by terrorist groups is the domain of NACTA, and social media must therefore be monitored rigorously.

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