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ISLAMABAD: After it drew widespread criticism from journalistic circles, the information minister on Sunday said she would order an inquiry into the drafting of a controversial ordinance that apparently seeks to muzzle the print media.

Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb told Dawn on Sunday that she had nothing to do with the proposed Pakistan Print Media Regulatory Authority (PPMRA) Ordinance 2017, which was to be taken up by the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP) — the print media regulator — at its 15th general meeting on Monday (today).

The draft ordinance, which is the eighth item on the agenda of the meeting, seeks to impose restrictions and harsh penalties on media organisations that do not conform to new rules, which include the mandatory annual renewal of publishing licences, as well as giving authorities the right to cancel a newspaper’s declaration at will.

Official correspondence between the ministry and PCP pertaining to the draft law, available with Dawn, shows that “minister of state for information… during the presentation [given to her on March 3, 2017] advised PCP management to enrich and improve the draft PPMRA Ordinance on the pattern of Pemra Amendment Act 2007”.

Press Council members say they won’t allow agenda item to be discussed at today’s meeting

Another reminder was issued to PCP by the information ministry on Aug 16, 2017, asking it to “furnish the requisite information on top priority”.

However, the minister said she had not given any such orders, claiming that the letters were issued in her name by certain officials who would be proceeded against.

She said she would order an inquiry against the official responsible for going “behind her back”, and maintained that she was a supporter of press freedom and had worked tirelessly on right to information legislation, which this ordinance would nullify.

Surprisingly, the PCP also denied any such law existed. In a clarification issued on Sunday, the council refuted the impression “that a democratic order in the country is going to be impacted as… [the] print media regulator is framing a set of laws not consistent with the spirit of Article 19 of the Constitution that guarantees [the] right to speech”.

“No law over the subject mentioned in print media reports has ever been framed… the legislation process whenever undertaken by the federal government is initiated in consultation with the stakeholders,” the statement said.

However, a number of council members confirmed that copies of the draft ordinance, seen by Dawn, were annexed with the agenda of the meeting that they received from the PCP secretariat.

Nasir Zaidi, who is the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists’ (PFUJ) nominee on the PCP, told Dawn he was shocked when he received the draft ordinance along with the agenda of the council meeting.

Veteran journalist Khurshid Tanveer, who is also a member of the PCP council, told Dawn it was not possible that the minister did not know that such a move was afoot.

He said that media stakeholders would not allow this agenda item to be discussed. “We will reject it outright,” he said, adding that the government should reveal who was behind this move.

“It is a matter of the fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan. The draft ordinance envisions the dissolution of the PCP; how can they dissolve an institution created by parliament?” he asked.

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2017