Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, on the recommendations of ‘Working Group on PEMRA Reforms’ a specialised voluntary forum, announces to make Council of Complaint(s) hearings public

Members of a specialised voluntary forum, ‘working group on PEMRA reforms’ met with the newly appointed chairman PEMRA, Absar Alam, on Tuesday the 5th of January, to formally present compliance related recommendations drafted and prepared with facilitation from Media Matters for Democracy.

The group congratulated Absar Alam and expressed hope for the long awaited, third generation of media reforms in Pakistan.

The group recommended a larger focus on the inclusion of civil society, especially academia and stressed on a consultative approach towards media regulation. The group also suggested improvements in media monitoring structure of PEMRA and the regular publication of annual reports.

Chairman PEMRA on the recommendation of the working group, committed to making the hearings of Council of Complaints public, with reasonable access to media and directed the PEMRA’s technical team to look into the option of web-casting the proceedings.

Chairman PEMRA also announced to hold a consultative dialogue/conference with all the media stakeholder groups to discuss media reforms, content regulation and policy related issues. The conference is planned in the first quarter of 2016.

The group will continue to engage with PEMRA on compliance and media reforms related issues.

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Following recommendations were presented to the Chairman PEMRA on behalf of the working-group:

IMPROVING INDUSTRY STANDARDS BY ENSURING COMPLIANCE TO PEMRA Ordinance 2002

Recommendations prepared for Chairman PEMRA, Absar Alam

1. COMPOSITION OF THE AUTHORITY

Under PEMRA Ordinance Section 6 (3) “…five members shall be eminent citizens chosen to ensure representation of all provinces with expertise in one or more of the following fields; media, law, human rights and social service” and under Section 6(4-A_ “…two members shall be appointed by the Federal Government on need basis on the recommendations of the Chairman”.  Both these sections, give Chairman PEMRA the authority to create a stronger body by appointing appropriate members. Given this we recommend that;

a. The Chairman ensures that both public and Private sector members of the Authority are competent, sincere and able to understand and thus play an active role in the development of the media industry at large by safeguarding the interests of the citizens of Pakistan and all other stakeholders.

2. MEETINGS OF THE AUTHORITY

Under Section 8 of the PEMRA Ordinance the process of the meetings of the Authority is defined. To ensure transparency in the process we recommend that;

a. Key details of the agenda and proceedings of meetings be made available to the general public via PEMRA website.

3. LICENCE TO BROADCAST OR OPERATE

Section 19(2) of the PEMRA Ordinance states “No person shall engage in any broadcast media or distribution service, except after obtaining the licenses issued under this Ordinance”. The compliance of this section is essential for the transparent growth of media industry. Thus we recommend that;

  1. All TV Channels currently operating without a proper license from PEMRA be shut down and barred from broadcast. This is also anti-competitive and unfair business practice and PEMRA needs to move quickly in this regard. Even as it is some emergency or essential public service content being aired like on military run FM radio stations in operational area, the authority must ensure that these radio stations do not indulge into commercial business. If they take cover of being a “state media” then they must be licensed, supervised and restricted to operationally justifiable geographical zones.
  1. The status of all radio FM stations including 55 stations operating as Suno Pakistan, should be made clear, precisely whether they are operating under a PEMRA license and if not, they be dealt with as unlicensed broadcasters.
  1. The financial viability and feasibility, plus past track record of that media business enterprise and how the labor and operational practices there are dealt with must have a bearing on the decision to award a license.

4. COUNCIL OF COMPLAINTS

Under Section 26 of the PEMRA Ordinance the Authority can establish multiple Councils of Complaints. The Council of Complaints can be a very powerful structure within PEMRA and we recommend;

  1. Strong Councils should be created at Federal and Provincial Capitals and other places where media concentration and viewership is strong.
  2. Council Chair and members be selected with a rigorous process, ensuring the selection of candidates who understand the media industry, are credible and believe in the progressive media and journalists
  3. The proceedings of the council be made transparent and open to public.
  4. In the virtual system for complaint registration, collect information about the identify and demographics of the complainant to ensure that the complaint is genuine and deter mass complaints via bots or other means.
  5. Share demographical details about the complainants with the licensee under investigation
  6. Make proceedings and results of complaints against licensees publicly available through PEMRA website, on a monthly basis.

5.  ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS

The following recommendations are in line with the functions of PEMRA under the preamble of the PEMRA Ordinance 2002;

  1. PEMRA should improve its monitoring function and based on the monitoring of licensed broadcasters release a quarterly professional ranking index, detailing the number and kinds of violations made by each media outlet.  There should be a periodical qualitative and quantitative analysis of the complaints received, their nature, and redressal.
  2. PEMRA should follow the due process of law when issuing notices to TV channels, specifically those based on violation of Article 19 – being a constitutional provision, the interpretation of the Article 19 and its application cannot be defined by anyone but a court of law.
  3. Determine the status of FM channels, particularly defining the terms of their licensing with regards to the broadcast of entertainment and news content
  4. PEMRA should ask all licensees to declare and make public any conflict of interest for example news channels broadcasting information about their other business ventures should ensure that such information isn’t disguised as neutral news.
  5. Proactively conduct and commission research into matters that have a direct impact on the quality of media industry in Pakistan particularly into the ratings mechanism and media economy.
  6. PEMRA should ensure that all licensees comply with the labor laws and are capable of paying their employees. Basic security protocols, ensuring key measures to support the safety and security of journalists and media workers should also be made necessary.
  7. PEMRA should ensure that all licensees submit their annual financial reports and audits to the Authority. This data should be made publicly available.
  8. Strategize and draft a comprehensive policy for digital switchover in Pakistan in compliance with the obligations under ITU. PEMRA should also introduce milestone markers for this switch over so not only the technical process can have oversight, but a dialogue with the media industry can be initiated to train them to develop and deliver content for niche audiences while remaining competitive in the market.

Recommendations prepared by Sadaf Khan of Media Matters for Democracy in consultation with Owais Tohid, Murtaza Solangi, Rana Jawad, Matiullah Jan, Amir Jahangir, Farrukh Pitafi, Hassan Bilal ZaidiBarrister Masroor Shah, Asad Baig, Arslan Saeed, Shabana Arif and Afia Salam.

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