Ordinance about creation of new media body opposed

Published May 30, 2021
Associations vowed to resist such ‘draconian’ steps by taking into confidence trade unions, academia, political parties and citizens’ organisations. — Reuters/File
Associations vowed to resist such ‘draconian’ steps by taking into confidence trade unions, academia, political parties and citizens’ organisations. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) have rejected the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance, 2021.

“The proposed law is draconian in scope and devastating in its impact on the constitutional principles and guarantees for freedom of expression, media freedoms, and the right to information as well as the profession of journalism,” they said in a joint statement.

The PFUJ is an umbrella organisation of all journalist unions, the HRCP is apex human rights organisation and PBC is the representative body of lawyers in the country.

PFUJ president Shahzada Zulfiqar and secretary general Nasir Zaidi along with HRCP chairperson Hina Jilani and secretary general Harris Khalique and PBC vice chairman Khushdil Khan have raised serious objections over the draft of the ordinance.

PFUJ, HRCP, PBC say proposed law will destroy all public media

They said proposed ordinance reflects a mindset hostile to the concept of people’s freedom of expression and right to information and warned that upending the current media regulatory regime, as proposed in the law, will destroy all public media as it exists in Pakistan today.

They vowed to resist such ‘draconian’ steps by taking into confidence trade unions, academia, political parties and citizens’ organisations.

The proposed ordinance embodies the anti-media proclivities of an army of spokespersons the incumbent government has recruited.

The ordinance proposes to repeal all current media-related laws, including the Press Council Ordinance, 2002, the Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance, 2002, the Newspaper Employees, (Conditions of Service Act), 1973, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance, 2002, as amended by the Pemra Amendment Act, 2007, and the Motion Pictures Ordinance, 1979.

The government wants to merge these laws with the proposed PMDA.

“This mala fide step is another U-turn from the promises made by the prime minister about expanding freedom of expression before he took oath of office. This ordinance will further tighten the grip of the government on all forms of media that includes print, electronic social media, drama and films,” the joint statement said.

It said the proposal to nominate a Grade-22 bureaucrat to head the PMDA was tantamount to formalising a regime of coercive censorship.

The statement decried the proposed establishment of media tribunals to hand punishments of up to three years in jail and Rs25 million in fines to content producers for violating the repressive new provisions.

“The proposed ordinance is nothing less than imposing ‘media martial law’,” it said.

The statement recalled that similar attempts made in the past through Pemra and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority in 2020 were not only vehemently opposed but rejected outright by all stakeholders, including the PFUJ, HRCP, PBC and human and digital rights groups, national and international media watchdogs and global social media service providers.

It said the Islamabad High Court had given a stay on PFUJ’s petition that challen­ged similar draconian social media rules.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2021

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