The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has constituted a committee to liaise and discuss the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) — a proposed media regulatory body — with relevant stakeholders.
In a notification issued on Wednesday, the ministry said State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib would head the committee that would comprise three other members – Press Information Department Director General (DG) Sohail Ali Khan, Internal Publicity DG Manzoor Ali Memon and Directorate of Electronic Media & Publications (DEMP) Deputy Director Mahar un Nisa.
What is PMDA?
The PMDA is a proposed 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.
No other body but the Supreme Court will have the jurisdiction to question the legality of “anything done or any decision taken under the [PMDA] ordinance”, the proposal states.
In addition to its regulatory function, the authority will determine media employees’ wages and resolve wage disputes.
The proposal to establish the media regulatory authority has met with criticism from journalists, activists and the opposition.
Media organisations representing publishers, journalists, broadcasters, editors and news directors have rejected the proposed PMDA Ordinance, describing the concept as an unconstitutional and draconian law against freedom of press and expression and a step towards imposing state control to regulate all segments of media.
Condemning the proposal, a press release issued by the PBA said the authority was "aimed against the freedom of press and expression" and a step towards imposing state control over media operations.
"The proposed PMDA is intended to hinder media freedoms and take control [of] the media by the top information bureaucracy," the press release read. "The concept is an attempt to tighten [the] federal government's hold over the media through one draconian authority ignoring the fact that print, electronic and digital media are separate entities, each with their own defined features and respective regulatory laws."
According to the press release, media bodies have resolved to to resist the establishment of the PMDA at all levels and form a joint action committee for the purpose.
Besides, the PML-N and PPP have expressed concern over the government’s plan to establish the PMDA and vowed to resist it with full force.
In a statement issued on Monday, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb declared the government’s move to establish the PMDA through an ordinance an “unconstitutional step” and in conflict with Article 19 of the Constitution which guaranteed freedom of expression and a free media in the country.
She said that instead of bringing legislation to protect the journalists and to ensure media freedom, the government was bent upon bringing a “black law” in order to put more curbs on freedom of expression.
PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman said in a separate statement issued on the same day that the disastrous effect that this ordinance would have on media and freedom of expression was “unacceptable”.
“The civil society and media rights groups have termed the ordinance media martial law. Through this media outlets will either become state mouthpieces or go under,” she decried.