Govt forms task force to review media laws

* Body to monitor framework for an oversight on the implementation of the existing and the amended media laws rules and regulations

ISLAMABAD: A nine-member “Media Laws Review Task Force” has been established to conduct a comprehensive review of all the existing media laws, rules and regulations at the federal, provincial and local levels, Information Secretary Dr Nazeer Saeed said on Tuesday.
Briefing a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information and broadcasting, presided over by Chairperson Marvi Memon, he said that the ministry was working with consensus on formulating a media code of conduct and its mechanism for effective implementation. 
The committee approved Terms of Reference (TORs) for Media Laws Review Task Force which, among others, include development of a monitoring framework for an oversight on the implementation of the existing and the amended media laws rules and regulations.
The committee also finalised its recommendations on the draft Right to Information (RTI) bill, which has been proposed by the ministry. It was recommended that the draft bill must propose formation of an independent and autonomous information commissions to take action against the departments denying public access to information on the pattern of the regional countries like Nepal, India, etc, and the RTI bills of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.
The committee observed that the draft RTI Bill has no provision that provides legal protection for whistleblowers and recommended that such a provision must be included in the draft bill to encourage individuals to report serious misconduct and wrongdoing of public officials while carrying out their official duties. The committee also proposed amendments in Section 8 of draft bill, which pertains to exclusion of record that includes “record declared as classified by the federal government”.
It was observed that this provision provides a wide discretion to declare any matter of public interest as not discloseable to the public and strongly recommended that provision must be amended to give specific guidelines outlining the type of information that the federal government may declare as classified. The committee also recommended that timelines be added to the different sections of the law to ensure swift implementation. and suggested several other amendments for improving the efficacy of the draft bill.     
Dr Nazir Saeed said on Tuesday that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was working to create consensus on a comprehensive code of conduct for media. He also said that the media bodies were also working on formulation of self- regulatory code and it would be easy to implement. Saeed informed the committee that the draft of access to information bill has been finalised. He said it was an over eight years’ effort with special input from the sub-committee of Senate panel convened by Senator Farhatullah Babar. 
The secretary said that PEMRA has referred the issue of complaint against Geo News to the Ministry of Law for legal opinion. He said it was a debatable issue whether any news channel could be punished on the base of a fact-finding report. Marvi Memon said that her committee has already completed work on the draft of right to information bill and sent its recommendations to the speaker NA. 
The committee finalised a 10-member list of the legal task force with input from all members of the standing committee. However, the committee reserved the right to add more members to the legal taskforce for its strengthening. The committee constituted three groups on Media Task Force whose progress will be reviewed on quarterly basis. 
The task force will submit its report regarding amendments in media laws in four to six months’ time. Law Ministry was advised to hand over the list of media laws to the task force.

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