ISLAMABAD: The opposition parties and representative bodies of journalists were up in arms on Thursday over the government’s plan to establish media courts, terming it yet another step towards “arm-twisting” of media and “an attack on democracy”.
Leaders belonging to the country’s main opposition parties — Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — questioned the idea of setting up “special courts” in the presence of regular courts and a number of forums for resolution of media disputes.
Firdous Ashiq Awan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information, told reporters after meeting office-bearers of the Pakistan Broadcasters Association in Karachi on Wednesday that the government planned to set up media courts to ensure prompt justice to workers and resolve issues related to the industry.
She had stated that the proposed courts would hear only media-related complaints and grievances and help provide justice to the aggrieved within the shortest possible time.
Soon after the announcement by the SAPM, the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) came out with statements opposing the proposal. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) said on Thursday that it would oppose the government’s move with full force.
Opposition, journalist bodies term step an attack on democracy
Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP likened restrictions on the media to an attack on democracy and a violation of Articles 19 and 19(A) of the Constitution dealing with freedom of expression and access to information.
“Any such move is condemned and will be resisted inside parliament,” declared Mr Rabbani.
The PPP senator was of the view that the media was already under severe censorship in the form of press advisories and “intimidation from ruling quarters”. “The idea of setting up media courts is yet another form of intimidation and step to bring the industry under pressure. This is rejected.”
Mr Rabbani, a former Senate chairman, said forums for resolution of media disputes already existed in the form of the Press Council of Pakistan, Pemra’s Council of Complaints and the Wage Board Implementation Tribunal.
“It appears that after being unsuccessful in foisting the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) draft, the government has now fallen back on such measures as establishing courts,” said Mr Rabbani.
The people of Pakistan, he said, had waged a struggle to safeguard their rights to freedom of expression and information. “We the citizens and parliamentarians will defend the media’s right to express its views without any form of monitoring.”
Similarly, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said her party had always been opposed to the idea of setting up special courts in the country in the presence of normal courts and laws.
Talking to Dawn, Ms Aurangzeb said the PML-N would not allow the government to bulldoze legislation and resist moves to curb media freedom. She said such things happened only in fascist states.
PFUJ condemns idea
Afzal Butt and Ayub Jan Sarhandi, the president and the secretary general of the Afzal Butt faction of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), in a joint statement condemned the idea of special media courts and termed it another “arm twisting” tools.
The PFUJ office-bearers rejected the move, terming it an “ill-conceived idea”.
They said the present government was engaged in media gagging, unannounced censorships, press advices and placing ban on advertisements from day one. “These draconian measures evoke the days of dictatorial regimes.”
They urged the government to speed up its efforts for strengthening democratic culture, media freedom and right to expression guaranteed by the Constitution instead of creating obstacles in the way of smooth functioning of the media.
The PFUJ called for an urgent withdrawal of ill-conceived ideas like media courts and a media regulatory authority.
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2019