ISLAMABAD - The Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting on Tuesday constituted a sub-committee to assist the Information Ministry in finalising a bill on freedom of information that has already been drafted by the ministry in consultation with all stakeholders.

The bill will be tabled before any house of the Parliament soon after its finalisation from the ministry and the sub-committee. The sub-committee comprises of Senator Farhatullah Babar as convener and Senator Syed Zafar Ali Shah and Senator Daud Khan Achakzai as its members. The decision was taken during a meeting of the Senate committee that met at the Parliament House with Senator Kamil Ali Agha in the chair.

The committee also recommended to the government that the mission statement as well as the mandate of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting be suitably amended so as to formally incorporate the critical role of developing free media in the country in its charter.

The recommendation was adopted after Senator Farhatullah Babar, referring to the 18th Amendment (Article 19-A) guaranteeing the citizen's right to information, said the mandate and mission of the ministry be suitably amended to make it mandatory for the ministry to help develop free media in the country where people had access to information. He said that the Rules of Business 1973 might be changed for this purpose, if needed. The meeting also decided to hold meeting with the Press Council of Pakistan with a view to assisting it in advancing the task assigned to it.

The committee also decided to address in coordination with stakeholders the issues in advertisements, certification of newspaper circulation by the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) and protection of working journalists against professional hazards. The modalities for undertaking this task however have not yet been decided. Earlier, the meeting was briefed in detail about the working and performance of the Information Ministry and its attached departments. The committee will again meet today (Wednesday) to discuss the working of some departments of the Information Ministry

In his opening remarks, the chairman of the committee observed that media played an important role in the socio-economic development of the country and created awareness among the masses on the issues having direct impacts on their lives. Agha said print and electronic media had greater role in transforming the societies through objective and authentic information. Members of the committee suggested that Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) had to play a more proactive role to ensure proper monitoring of the TV channels for the contents and authenticity of news.

Senators Saeed Ghani, Farhatullah Babar, Mrs Farah Aqil, Ms Shirala Malik, Daud Khan Achakzai, Malik Najum ul Hassan and Syed Zafar Ali Shah besides senior officials of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting attended the meeting.