Govt firmly believes in freedom of expression, wants to create consensus of stakeholders on PMDA, Fawad tells UK envoy

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain has stressed that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government firmly believed in fundamental, democratic and constitutional rights of freedom of expression and wanted to take all stakeholders on board to create consensus on the draft of Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).

During a meeting with British High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr Christian Turner, the minister said that the PMDA aimed to ensure a cohesive approach to media development and efficient management besides providing one-window operation to media practitioners and the consumers.

He said that the government also wanted to streamline and ease the process for issuance of the NoC for films in order to give boost to the film industry. He clarified that  no criminal section was being included in the PMDA law. He said that protection, perseverance and promotion of the democratic values of freedom of expression and right to criticism were vital for any democratic civilized society.

He told that presently seven regulatory bodies were regulating media organizations. These bodies, he said included  PEMRA, Press Council of Pakistan, Pakistan Telecom Authority, Central Board of Films Censors, Press Registrar Office, Audit Bureau of Circulation and Implementation Tribunal for Newspapers Employees.

The minister said that presently media regulatory authorities were scattered and currently digital media platforms were not under any regulatory framework.

He said in the modern times television, radio and newspapers were part of the cellular mobile set and hence need a single regulatory authority. The convergence of media bodies under PDMA was essential to develop electronic, print, digital and emerging media platforms.

He said under the present mechanism of regulation over half a dozen outdated laws and set of rules were in place which did not meet  the modern day requirements of converged media.

The minister said that under the existing regulatory system, redressing of public complaints takes a long time and applications for registration and grant of NoCs were not processed in time.

He said the proposed framework would address challenges and requirements for the convergent media environment as per global practices to make Pakistan a major global center for multimedia information and content services.

"We want to do away with outdated laws and bring a simple single law in line with requirements of modern age, focusing on facilitation for both the media platforms and citizens,” Fawad added.

Unlike the present system which focused on policing and revenue collection, the new authority would focus on development, innovation, digital economy, training and research, information minister stressed.

He said that all present laws related to media regulation would be abolished and a new legislation finalized in consultation with stakeholders would be enacted.

He said that transparency in all processes would be ensured through the simplification of rules and procedures.

He highlighted that PMDA would have a Press Directorate, Digital Media  and Film Directorate, Electronic Media Directorate, Media Complaints Council and Media Tribunal.

Fawad said that Pakistan being a democratic and pluralist society has one of the most vibrant media landscapes which has grown enormously in terms of scale and influence, disseminating news and views 24/7.

He said that there were 114 satellite television channels in Pakistan out of which 31 were news and current affairs channels. He said that there were a total of 258 FM channels in Pakistan out of which 196 were commercial and 62 non-commercial.

He told the ambassador that there were 4026 cable operators in Pakistan and 12 IPTV and 6 mobile TV channels whereas 1672 newspapers and 203 weeklies. However, over six hundred newspapers were proved to be dummies.

He said that a consultation process with the stakeholders had been started and the concept paper shared with public and private stakeholders. He said a committee headed by the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Farrukh Habib had been constituted for consultation with private stakeholders. Chaudhary Fawad apprised that the committee had held meetings with APNS, CPNE, PBA and office bearers of PFUJ and Press clubs and largely there was consensus over the establishment of PMDA. – APP