Umbrella media regulator to be set up soon

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry confirmed that the PTI government is soon going to set up an umbrella regulatory body – the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) – for all forms of media including the print, electronic, film and digital.

“The PMDA will bring an end to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP), the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC), the Press Registrar Office and the Implementation Tribunal for Newspaper Employees (ITNE),” Chaudhry told The Express Tribune on Sunday.

“The PMDA will be a new statutory institution to regulate all forms of media including digital and social media as well as internet-based content and advertisement,” the minister added.

According to the PDMA framework document, advertisement on internet is getting highly lucrative and mostly undocumented and unregulated. It said that as all sources of social media are stationed offshore and beyond any regulatory control, “it is possible that there are revenue and tax evasions.”

“The National Action Plan [against terrorism] also necessitates a firm organizational structure and resources for regulating media,” the document states.

Sources in the Ministry of Information said the PMDA will be an independent statutory authority tasked with ensuring Pakistan’s electronic, film, print and digital media legislation, related regulation and numerous derived standards and codes of practice to operate effectively and efficiently in the public interest.

“The PMDA shall be a converged regulator to be created to bring together the threads of the evolving media and communication, specifically in Pakistan’s context the convergence of the different forms of media,” an official said.

On the converged landscape, he said, the PMDA will have a strategic purpose of using media in Pakistan’s public interest. The sources said the PMDA will be a mix of various models of regulation and competition law and will be a “hybrid of rules and principles.”

The PDMA framework document suggests converging regulatory functions of all formats of the media, formulation of rules and guidelines for media including internet based advertisement and its revenue.

The document proposes that the right mix of rules and principles can help the PMDA issue guidelines “to media for code of conduct and national security issues” and the proposed regulator will be given legal authority to impose sanctions if violation occurs.

“All laws related to media regulation, control or indirect control may be abolished,” the framework read, adding “a new legislation to be enacted giving legal cover to the PMDA and its function.” It suggests that the PMDA should contain a wing for forensic cyber audit.

In the new setup, all functions being performed by Pemra will be performed by the Electronic Media Wing of the proposed authority.

Presently, it said, digital media is being regulated under the Pakistan Electronic Crime Act, (Peca) 2016 and the regulation is only to the extent of blocking the website. The CBFC examines films under the Motion Pictures Ordinance of 1979.

“Telecom, Digital Media and Films Wing” will be established under the proposed authority. Similarly, it said, the Print Media Wing will regulate the print and digital version of print media sector. A Research, Media Literacy and Training Wing will also be established.

The authority’s jurisdiction will extend to the whole of Pakistan and there will be a complaint redressal mechanism – Media Complaint Council and Media Tribunal – in the proposed authority.

The government believes that the synergizing of the organization and their regulatory functions will help reduce the unnecessary impediments in the free flow of information and facilitation for media persons, workers and organizations. The merger will also reduce the cost of operationalization.

Currently, Pemra has an annual budget of Rs1.088 billion with a total strength of 605. The PCP’s budget is Rs48 million and has 45 staffers; the PTA’s budget is Rs936,332,592 with roughly 500 staff members; the ABC’s budget is Rs19,494,000 for two officers, the ITNE’s budget is Rs18,300,000 and has 25 employees; the CBFC’s budget is Rs20 million and has 32 employees.

The Press Registrar Office’s two officials are being paid by the information ministry. The document outlined that the purpose of bringing all the regulators under one roof is that, currently, there is mixed system of regulatory control and both the federal and provincial governments exercise influence over the media by controlling government advertisement expenditure.

Besides, there are many laws and multiple organizations at local, provincial and federal levels. “Red tapism and duplication of work at various tiers of the federal and provincial governments creates unnecessary hurdles,” the document read, “All this can be simplified.”

The PMDA also aims at turning Pakistan into a major global center and hub for multimedia information and content services. Terming the current regulatory environment “fractured”, the documents revealed that 13 different functions fall under 13 organizations.

Source: Express Tribune

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