UPDATE: Proposed amendment to PEMRA Act 2007 reportedly will require ALL television channels to broadcast from PAKSAT, Pakistan’s national satellite system.

The move will allow PEMRA to lawfully scramble the signal of any given TV channel, without having to worry about the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized UN agency responsible for issues concerning information and communication technologies, Dawn reported.

There is reportedly an amendment to PEMRA Act 2007 in works, the draft bill of which has been prepared and shared with legal experts. Entitled PEMRA (Amendment) Act 2015, if passed will empower the regulator to scramble satellite uplink signals of any given channel with help from SUPARCO, the country’s prime space agency.

The draft bill to amend the Pemra Ordinance, entitled Pemra (Amendment) Act – 2015 will give the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) a greater role and suggests that “existing channel licensees shall shift their up-linking within 30 days to the satellite system designated by the federal government”. A summary forwarded to the PM states: “SUPARCO … has also recommended prioritization in shifting of channels to national satellite system (PAKSAT-IR) through necessary legislation, which in the instant draft PEMRA Amendment Act – 2015, has been incorporated in section 31 (a-4)”, Dawn reported.

See full the story here: http://www.dawn.com/news/1171724

The system works exactly like a GSM jammer – by bombarding noise on a certain frequency effectively blocking the signal. The technology to do it still exists – however, most TV channels in Pakistan are using international satellites for their uplink. SUPARCO in the current model, if attempts to scramble the beams can get in serious trouble with ITU and being an ITU member, Pakistan is mandated to address the Union’s concerns. To bypass such predicaments, the Amendment 2015 Act will require all television channels to shift their broadcasts to PAKSAT – solely controlled by Pakistan.

Under the existing law, satellite TV channels can uplink their broadcasts to “a satellite in order to transmit any programme within or outside Pakistan”. The proposed amendment enhances imprisonment for violators from 3 years to 5 years and the fine has been increased from Rs10 million to Rs25 million, Dawn reported.

Pakistan is known to be one of the most dangerous countries for media practitioners and the country’s media is rated as ‘not free’ by most international watchdogs, including Freedom House. This move will further strengthen the notion of State control over electronic media. Such a censorship tool has great potential to be used for political motives and can never bode well for a democratic society.

The Amendment Act 2015 reportedly proposes changes in following sections of current PEMRA Act 2007:

  1. Terms and conditions of licence.-

A person who is issued a licence under this Ordinance shall.-

(a) Ensure preservation of the sovereignty, security and integrity of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan;

(b) Ensure preservation of” the national, cultural, social and religious values and the principles of public policy as enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan;

(c) Ensure that all programmes and advertisements do not contain or encourage violence, terrorism, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy, hatred, pornography, obscenity, vulgarity or other material offensive to commonly accepted standards of decency;

(d) Comply with rules made under this Ordinance;

(e) Broadcast, if permissible under the terms of its licence, programmes in the public interest specified by the Federal Government or the Authority in the manner indicated by the Government or, as the case may be, the Authority, provided that the duration of such mandatory programmes do not exceed ten percent of the total duration of broadcast or operation by a station in twenty-four hours except if, by its own volition, a station chooses to broadcast such content for a longer duration;

(f) Comply with the codes of programmes and advertisements approved by the Authority and appoint an in-house monitoring committee, under intimation to the Authority, to ensure compliance of the Codes;

(g) Not broadcast or distribute any programme or advertisement in violation of copyright or other property right;

(h) Obtain NOC from Authority before import of any transmitting apparatus for broadcasting, distribution or teleporting operation; and

(i) Not sell, transfer or assign any of the rights conferred by the licence without prior written permission of the Authority.

  1. Consultation with Provinces:

(1) The Authority shall, except where applications for the issuance of a licence relates to Islamabad Capital Territory, invite the comments of the Government of the Province concerned, with regard to the proposed location of the Radio, TV or MMDS station for which the application has been made, and if the concern Provincial Government has any reservation to the issuance of the licence, the Authority shall invite the representative of the Provincial Government and consider its viewpoint before taking a decision on the issuance of a licence: Provided that where the Provincial Government objects to the issuance of a particular licence, the applicant shall be provided an opportunity to be present at the meeting of the Authority and given an opportunity of being heard with regard to the observations made by the Provincial Government.

(2) Where the signal of a radio, TV or MMDS station has the potential to cover an area outside the limits of the Province in which the unit is proposed to be located, the Authority shall invite one or more representatives from the concerned Provincial Governments to express their viewpoint, if any, on the inter-Provincial dimensions of the signal.

  1. Duration for consideration of the application for a licence:

The Authority shall take decision on the application for a licence within one hundred days from the receipt of the application.

  1. Exclusion of monopolies:

(1) No person shall be entitled to the benefit of any monopoly or exclusivity in the matter of broadcasting or the establishment and operation of broadcast media or distribution service48 or in the supply to or purchase from, a national broadcaster of air time, programmes or advertising material and all existing agreements and contracts to the extent of conferring a monopoly or containing an exclusivity clause are, to the extent of exclusivity, hereby declared to be inoperative and of no legal effect.

(2) In granting a licence, the Authority shall ensure that open and fair competition is facilitated in the operation of more than one media enterprise in any given unit of area or subject and that undue concentration of media ownership is not created in any city, town or area and the country as a whole:

Provided that if a licensee owns, controls or operates more than one media enterprise, he shall not indulge in any practice which may impede fair competition and provision of level playing field.

  1. Licence, application, issuance, refusal and validity:

(1) Any person desirous of obtaining a licence for establishment and operation of broadcast media or a distribution service shall apply to the Authority in such manner and form as may be prescribed.

(2) The Authority shall process each application in accordance with prescribed criteria and shall hold public hearings in the respective provincial capitals of each Province, or as the case may be, in Islamabad, before granting or refusing the licence.

(3) Each application shall be accompanied by such fee as the Authority may prescribe.

(4) A licence shall be valid for a period of five, ten or fifteen years subject to payment of the annual fee prescribed from time to time.

(5) The Authority may renew a licence on such terms and conditions as may be prescribed and in case of refusal to renew a licence reasons shall be recorded in writing.

  1. Certain persons not be granted licence:

A licence shall not be granted to:

(a) A person who is not a citizen of Pakistan or resident in Pakistan;

(b) A foreign company organized under the laws of any foreign government;

(c) A company the majority of whose shares are owned or controlled by foreign nationals or companies whose management or control is vested in foreign nationals or companies;

(d) Any person funded or sponsored by a foreign government or organization.

  1. Council of Complaints:

(1) The Federal Government shall, by notification in the Official Gazette, establish Councils of Complaints at Islamabad, the Provincial capitals and also at such other places as the Federal Government may determine.

(2) Each Council shall receive and review complaints made by persons or organizations from the general public against any aspects of programmes broadcast or distributed by a station established through a licence issued by the Authority and render opinions on such complaints.

(3) Each Council shall consist of a Chairperson and five members being citizens of eminence from the general public at least two of whom shall be women.

(3-A) The Councils shall have the powers to summon a licensee against whom a complaint has been made and call for his explanation regarding any matter relating to its operation.

(4) The Authority shall formulate rules for the functions and operation of the Councils within two hundred days of the establishment of the Authority.

(5) The Councils may recommend to the Authority appropriate action of censure, fine against a broadcast or CTV station or licensee for violation of the codes of programme content and advertisements as approved by the Authority as may be prescribed.

  1. Prohibition of broadcast media or distribution service operation:

The Authority shall by order in writing, giving reasons therefore, prohibit any broadcast media or distribution service operator from:

  • broadcasting or re-broadcasting or distributing any programme or advertisement if it is of the opinion that such particular programme or advertisement is against the ideology of Pakistan or is likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility or endangers national security or is pornographic, obscene or vulgar or is offensive to the commonly accepted standards of decency;

OR

(b) Engaging in any practice or act which amounts to abuse of media power by way of harming the legitimate interests of another licensee or willfully causing damage to any other person.

 

Developing story, visit again for updates. Image courtesy: SUPARCO

Asad Baig

2 Comments

  1. Thx for the effort and I appreciate for the Heads Up.

    …..I’ve read the recommendations; so far none seems to be as “Authoritarian”, however I must say that all hangs on the balance of how solid and impartial the Council of Complaints will be. If the government start jacking up switches just for the reason that some channel start showing pictures of Nawaz Shariff with Late Gen. Zia while making a critique on PML(N) political blossoming then yes, we should all be concerned. While at the same time we cannot tolerate the buffoonery of putting pictures of state officials and implicating “murder she wrote” or allow some gimmicks on the name of religious tolerance. Private media already ruthlessly harassed to give airtime to a London based Political Party (word has it that the airtime consumed is not paid or compensated by other means/favors)

    Pakistani airwaves should pass through Pakistani gadgets, control & regulated by Pakistanis. If I am not wrong in UK too private uplink signals are prohibited if it does not channel through their system.
    I thoroughly approve the recommendations and I am anxious to start, looking forward what would be the final draft table in parliament.

    • Very good analysis Owais Khan – much appreciated. We’ve all been evident that the state censorship tools, developed with no matter how good an intention, never actually help. PEMRA already has the authority to take channels off-air but this will further centralize the process. The problem is, when censorship tools are in place, there’s no knowing of how and by whom they’ll be used. Also asking TV channels to uplink their transmission through PAKSAT only is clear violation of their commercial independence. The bill proposes that the “Pemra chairman may direct concerned satellite operators and distribution service operators to off-air any channel in case of violation” who by the way is directly appointed by the President, see the political angle?. I am all up for effective regulation of televised content – we all know how badly we need it – but this isn’t the way to go forward.

      Are you referring to an OfCom directive? Please provide a reference of sort and we’ll do a comparative analysis on best practices. Thanks

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