A draft of the Broadcast Act-2016 has been prepared with a provision of jail term and fine for violating the rules or regulations of the act and orders or directives of the proposed broadcast commission.
According to the draft, criminal procedures would be followed in case of probe, trial and appeal concerning any offence that falls under the act.
One may face a maximum penalty of three months' imprisonment or a fine of Tk 5 lakh or both for violating the rules or regulations and orders or directives of the commission, it says.
If any broadcaster keeps committing the same offence, it would be fined Tk 1 lakh a day, says the draft act.
However, the offences under the law would be considered “non-cognisable” and “bailable”, and the court wouldn't be able to take any case into cognisance without the commission's approval.
Besides, if anyone runs broadcast without prior approval under the law or other related laws, the guilty person may face a maximum penalty of seven years in jail or a fine of Tk 10 crore or both, the draft reads.
It mentions 27 types of activities that a broadcaster cannot carry out without prior approval from the authorities concerned.
A 43-member committee formed by the government prepared the draft after the National Broadcasting Policy-2014 recommended that a law be formulated.
The information ministry yesterday published the draft on its website (www.moi.gov.bd) to elicit public opinion.
Talking to The Daily Star last night, Information Secretary Martuza Ahmed said they would finalise the draft after considering public opinion and consulting all stakeholders.
It would then be sent to the cabinet for approval. The process might take a month to complete, he added.
On August 7, 2014, the information ministry published a gazette on the National Broadcast Policy 2014 for television and radio amid concern about a possible misuse of some of its provisions. The policy drew criticism from rights activists and media personalities.
On December 23, 2014, the government formed a 38-member committee to draft the Broadcast Act. The committee, headed by Prof Golam Rahman of mass communication and journalism department at Dhaka University, later co-opted five more members.
According to the draft act, a broadcast commission would be constituted immediately after the law comes into effect.
The seven-member commission headed by a chairman must have at least one female member. A search committee would nominate the members, who would then be appointed by the president.
The government, in consultation with the commission, would formulate rules of procedures for smooth application of the act, the draft reads.
The commission would prepare a guideline for the broadcasters and regularly monitor whether they are properly following the National Broadcast Policy, the guideline and the code of ethics, it says.
The commission would be empowered to frame a guideline for giving licence to broadcasters.
It would make recommendations to the government for giving licence to television, radio, internet TV or other digital broadcast stations and would issue licence upon the government's approval.
The commission would receive complaints about contents of broadcast. It could issue show cause notices, initiate investigation, recommend to the government further proceedings against broadcasters if they broadcast something in violation of the National Broadcast Policy, says the draft.
On its own, the commission would be able to take action against broadcasters if it believes that they have violated the code of conduct and breached discipline.
It would be given the authority to take measures against a broadcaster if any content of broadcast poses a threat to security, territorial integrity, peace, public order and unity of the country or if it is vulgar, false and malicious.
Prof Rahman, now chief information commissioner, said nothing has been finalised yet. The draft is now on the ministry's website for people to give opinion. Public feedback would definitely be taken into consideration.
He, however, declined to say anything on the proposed provision of imprisonment and fine.
"We have prepared the draft through a thorough process, taking the views of stakeholders over the last six months. Let the people give their opinion now."
Barrister Tanjib-ul Alam, another member of the committee, said there should be some provisions of punishment for specific offences. These provisions are not arbitrary and are not meant, in any way, to curb press freedom.
He said the question of punishment would arise only when the commission finds any evidence of violation of the rules.
Tahmina Rahman, another member of the draft committee, said “criminal measures” should be avoided on the issue of freedom of expression.
“Different kinds of measures can be taken like sanctions or cancellation of licence… criminal measures can be taken but only as a last resort,” added Tahmina, director of Bangladesh and South Asia region of rights organisation Article 19.
A leader of the Association of Television Channel Owners (ATCO) told this newspaper that they would sit today to discuss the draft act and then give their reaction.