Media and political parties reject govt bill in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan journalists from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on Thursday rejected the proposed law ‘Pakistan Media Development Authority’ (PMDA), saying that it is against the fundamental rights provided by the constitution.

The journalists affiliated with different news organizations and also members of the Peshawar Press Club and Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ) adopted a unanimous resolution after a daylong seminar, The News International reported.

The journalists affiliated with different news organisations and press associations termed the law against article 19 of the constitution of the country, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression to the people. 

The groups also informed that “the proposed legislation would not only deprive journalists and media organizations of the press freedom but would also deprive civil society, students, lawyers, teachers, law-makers, trade unions, political, religious activists and in fact 220 million population of the country of their basic rights, The News International reported.

Experts also suggest that Pakistan’s freedom of the press is under threat as the Imran Khan-led country’s government is poised to place more curbs by implementing the so-called new law Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).

Despite being a democratic state, Pakistan continues to suppress free speech in digital spaces, stopping its citizens from participating in the working of the state by depriving them of a resourceful channel for vocalizing their concerns. Writer Mehmil Khalid cites an assessment report ‘Pakistan Freedom of Expression Report 2020’ by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD) to say that the country performed poorly in all the indicators that determine free speech and that the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the digital censorship in Pakistan. Pakistan scored 30 points out of 100 on the assessment report index, which analysts say proves the fact that the government has placed curbs on free speech and disallowed people to talk especially about the pandemic and the related information.

According to a Dawn report, political parties, student unions and members of civil society continued to express solidarity with protesting journalists outside Parliament House in Islamabad on Monday, joining them in raising their voice against the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) bill.

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, PML-N Information Sec­retary Marriyum Aurangzeb and MNA Mohsin Dawar, among others, visited the protest site on Sunday night to express solidarity with the journalists.

ISLAMABAD: Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi talks to media persons during Journalists sits protest (Dharna) in favor of their demands outside National Press Club in Federal Capital.

Several politicians, including Senator Sherry Rehman and Raza Rabbani of the PPP, visited the protest camp on Monday and addressed the protesters.

Aurangzeb, along with PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal, also visited the protest site on Monday.

Addressing the protesters, Iqbal lambasted the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government for “attacking and attempting to muzzle” the media.

Referring to the PMDA bill, he dubbed it a “conspiracy” and said if the bill was passed, “democracy will die in this country”. The PML-N leader vowed to resist the “fascist law”.

Later, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addressed the protest, saying that journalists in the country had bravely fought against and defeated former president Pervez Musharraf in the past, and they would also put up a fight against the incumbent government and its decisions challenging media freedom.

“I believe as far as the legitimacy of the government and media freedom are concerned, all [of us] are on the same page,” he added.

The PPP chairperson said he saw the PMDA as a continuity of measures taken in the past to place curbs on the media.

“Some people don’t want journalists to think freely and struggle for media freedom. We should not yield to them, and nobody will be able to infringe upon our rights,” he said.

Pakistani journalists stage demonstration outside Pakistan High Commission London on Sunday against PMDA and censorship/to show support to protesting journalists in Pakistan; high commission accused of issuing threats to journalists to stop the protest in the name of ‘image’.

He further stated that in present times, countries had been using the media as a tool to attack their rivals and to tackle the issue in Pakistan, media here needed to be empowered.

Bilawal said independent media was vital for societal improvement, adding that “we will resist any move to gag the media through [the PMDA] legislation”.

He told the protesting journalists that he would approach all relevant forums to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government.

PML-N President and Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif is also expected to address the protesters later today and journalist Hamid Mir plans to host a talk show at the site of the sit-in.

The protest call was given by various journalist bodies, headed by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

What is PMDA?

The PMDA has been conceived as a regulatory body that can “cater to the professional and business requirements of all forms of media and their users”, according to a government proposal, and is meant to replace the current “fractured” regulatory environment and “fragmented” media regulation by multiple bodies.

This means that according to the proposal, the PMDA solely will be responsible for the regulation of print, broadcast and digital media in Pakistan.

Under an ordinance drafted for the establishment of the authority, all previous laws pertaining to media regulation, control or indirect control will likely be abolished and fresh legislation will be enacted, giving legal cover to the PMDA and its functions.

However, the opposition and journalists see the bill as an attempt to curtail the independence of media.

Addressing the protesters in Islamabad on Sunday, senior journalists representing various associations of media workers vowed to resist the government move to enforce the PMDA, terming it an effort to gag the press.