ISLAMABAD   -    The opposition members have strongly condemned barring PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari and PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique from attending the National Assembly Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday.

The meeting of National Assembly Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting was held in the chair of MNA Javeed Latif at PEMRA building. The production orders of the committee members Asif Zardari and Saad Rafique had been issued but they were barred from attending the meeting as committee was met in the PEMRA building and not in the premises of Parliament.

Committee member Dr Nafeesa Shah said the production orders of two members of the committee had been issued but they were not allowed to attend the committee. She said this kind of steps raised questions on credibility of the committee. The chairman committee said if the government does not allow the production orders of any members of National Assembly then it should bring reforms in this law but the law of production orders is existed.

Nafeesa Shah said why PEMRA stopped Asif Zardrai’s interview from airing and censorship is considered a condemnable act in any democratic society.

However, the Chairman PEMRA said the authority has not issued any instructions regarding censorship and PEMRA only issues directives to follow law.  

On the other hand,  Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Information Senator Faisal Javed chaired the committee meeting in Parliament while discussing the matter of public importance raised by Senator Rehman Malik regarding character assassination of PPP leader on electronic media, the mover observed that fake news is damaging to everyone irrespective of party or any other affiliation, and there should be a plausible and long term solution considering the ethical values of being a media person. He said parameters need to be defined and a proper legislation have to be in place or else some required amendments in PEMRA Act be made.

Prime Minister’s special Assistant on Information, Broadcasting Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan observed that the concerns regarding fake news are coming from many sectors. She said that there is a collective understanding to bring forth a responsible role of media without putting any bars on freedom of expression. She agreed that some structural reforms and empowerment is needed in PEMRA but it has to be under a set of guidelines. She said that an exercise on the said issues was conducted by constituting a committee to coordinate with all government sector and private media stakeholders and the Committee may guide the ministry as to how to go about it. The Committee decided to wait till the proposal comes from the ministry by August to subsequently share their recommendations.

Chairman PTV told the committee that despite limited resources PTV has experienced an increase of 2.5 per cent in its revenue and has had a profit of 300 million profit in the financial year that ended by June 2019.

Regarding revamping of PTV the MD PTV told the meeting that having assumed office only two weeks ago, he is formulating a reform mechanism and a detailed briefing will require some time. The Committee gave one month time to come up with a comprehensive plan regarding technological enhancement, human resource issues and content management.

Regarding the status of payments to PTV pensioners, committee was told that the State enterprise has to pay a total of 2 billion as liability in heads of pensions and commutation. It was told that Board of Directors has approved payment of 700 million and will be distributed in two weeks. This will be an attempt to clear the backlog of 2016, 2017 and then the pending payments of 2018 will be catered too.

The Special Assistant told the committee that PTV is under a financial crunch and efforts are being made to bring it out of the situation.

 Chairman of the PTV Board told the committee that being a state channel PTV has to represent and protect the culture, value system and national interest and this does not generate commercial business. He said that an organisation which is paying 76% of its budget on staff management cannot be expected to go in profit with only 6% of budget spent on content.

Chairman committee Senator Faisal Javed Khan reiterated the commitment to continue taking the matter up till its resolution.

The committee was also given a detailed briefing on working and performance of Lok Virsa and was told that Lok Virsa receives 95.544 million grant in aid by government; 72.864 million go in employee related work while 22.680 million are spent in operating expenses.