ISLAMABAD: Politicians, media bodies and rights groups on Wednesday rejected the federal government’s announcement of setting up of special tribunals for taking up complaints against the media without prior consultation with primary stakeholders.
The announcement was made by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan at a news briefing on Tuesday.
“The prime minister has ordered that a bill envisaging formation of media tribunals be tabled in the current National Assembly session,” Dr Awan said. The government “will sit with the media organisations on the matter later”, she added.
Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, in a statement, saw the move as an attempt to launch a “witch-hunt against media” as well after “holding opposition leaders hostage” through the National Accountability Bureau.
“The way they deal with their opponents and critics is reminiscent of the Salem witch trials. Based on frivolity and falsehoods, the PTI’s narrative is right out of Goebbels’ propaganda playbook,” he said.
He made it clear that the PPP would not let this bill pass at any cost. “We stand for freedom of media. Pakistan’s media is going through its worst phase of censorship under the Niazi regime. We will not allow them to target the media so blatantly and brazenly. Enough is enough.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it was “deeply concerned” over the government’s announcement to set up media tribunals.
“Given the government’s woeful record on press freedoms, HRCP urges it to refrain from pressurising the media further,” the rights group tweeted. “How are tribunals expected to maintain the media’s independence?”
Former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani said any restriction on the media was an attack on democracy and in violation of Articles 19 and 19(A) of the Constitution, which dealt with freedom of expression and access to information. “Any such move is condemned and will be resisted inside parliament,” he said.
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said her party rejected the proposal as it was an un-parliamentary move. “We will use all possible ways to restrict the bill in the parliament.”
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) also rejected the idea of media courts.
PFUJ president Afzal Butt and secretary general Ayub Jan Sarhandi, in a joint statement, condemned the idea and termed it another tool of arm-twisting of media and journalists, who are already under heavy censorship and financial crunch and are victims of retrenchments in the name of so-called financial burden on rich owners.
The PFUJ leaders criticised the government for floating ideas such as media courts and media regulatory authority, in the presence of Pemra and its commission of complaints, Wage Board Implementation Tribunal, Press Council of Pakistan, and other laws and forums which can be made more effective and independent.
“The incumbent government from day one is engaged in media gagging, unannounced censorships, press advices and ban of government advertisements and other such tactics, which reminds the days of dictatorial regimes and martial laws in the country,” they regretted.
The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) also voiced concern over the decision.
“Media is already going through tough times due to government policies. Through this decision, they are trying to put more restrictions and bans on media,” CPNE president Arif Nizami said in a press statement.
Mr Nizami also called a meeting of the CPNE in Karachi on Thursday (today) to devise a line of action against the attempts to curb media freedom.
The All Pakistan Newspapers Society also rejected the decision of the federal cabinet. APNS president Hameed Haroon and secretary general Sarmad Ali said that the day of the announcement of formation of special media tribunals without consultation with stakeholders in media was a ‘‘black’’ day for Pakistan’s press.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2019