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Is PEMRA threatening the digital economy of Pakistan?

The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights rejected the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s proposal to regulate online content.

“This is not a paper, but a regulation,” said Digital Rights Foundation Chairperson Nighat Dad on SAMAA TV’s programme Naya Din on Tuesday. “And the regulation simply states that the PEMRA wants to regulate online content,” she said.

On January 8, the regulatory body had uploaded a proposal on its website which stated that it wants to regulate web TV and over-the-top (OTT) content services.

OTT is basically video-on-demand content, Dad said. “Like Netflix, this is content that users browse through themselves, it is similar to having a remote and browsing through channels,” she explained.

PEMRA’s proposal also stated that it will charge Rs5 million for launching a web entertainment channel and Rs10 million for a current affairs web TV.

“We have a huge list of Youtubers and influencers in Pakistan,” the digital rights activist said. “These people put up content on Youtube for commercial purposes and earn money out of it.”

There are journalists too who disseminate news online on their channels and make money through it, she said. “If the regulation is passed, people will need a licence, which costs millions, to operate their channels just like television channels.”

“PEMRA is threatening the digital economy of Pakistan through this,” Dad said.

She emphasised that the regulation will not just affect the influencers and content creators but also online consumers because then PEMRA will have the right to claim anything to be ‘illegal’.

The activist identified two major aims of the regulation: money generation through licences and a ban on free speech.

Throughout the world, there are no examples of regulation on online content except China. “Even countries in our region such as Singapore and Malaysia have a code of conduct, but they do not charge for influencers licences,” Dad informed.

The regulatory body had previously also come up with proposals to authorise online content but had failed because of protests by digital rights activists. It justifies these proposals by saying that content online is too free.

Dad rejected this and said that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2106 is affective in stopping crimes from taking place on the online space.

“The most important fact here is that according to its ordinance, PEMRA, does not have any right to make a law or policy pertaining to the internet,” Dad added.

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