KARACHI: The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom in over 100 countries, has expressed extreme concern over the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance, 2021.
In a communication addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday, the IPI feared that implementation of the PMDA ordinance would drastically curtail press freedom in Pakistan.
“While your government’s decision to appoint a committee to discuss the ordinance with stakeholders is a positive move, we believe that the ordinance itself should be withdrawn immediately, as there are sufficient mechanisms and processes available in the country to regulate the media and the PMDA will have a negative impact on the freedom of a vibrant and responsible media in Pakistan,” said the IPI executive director Barbara Trionfi in a news release.
According to the IPI, the proposal 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 Services Acts), 1973, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance, 2002 — as amended by the Pemra Amendment Act 2007 — and the Motion Pictures Ordinance, 1979, and replace them with an umbrella authority to regulate the media will go against the democratic norms that Pakistan should uphold as a democracy.
Fears the proposed law will drastically curtail press freedom
The IPI pointed out that Pakistan has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, therefore it should honour its commitment by allowing the media to function without interference.
“We are concerned that the creation of a regulatory body that does not contain sufficient guarantees for independence…risks undermining press freedom. Appointing a bureaucrat as head of the PMDA would compromise its independence, which is an essential element of any regulatory system.
The IPI said it is also contrary to recommendations made by special rapporteurs with a mandate for the protection of freedom of expression or freedom of the media.
The New York-based institute said it’s also disturbing to note that PMDA will be empowered to shut down operations of a media group, seal the premises of a media outlet and seize equipment of media organisations without issuing a notice and, even more regrettably, without judicial oversight.
Such a draconian provision will force journalists and media organisations to resort to self-censorship.
Furthermore, the proposal to set up media tribunals with powers to award punishments of up to three years along with a penalty of Rs25 million to content producers for violating provisions of the ordinance is a clear attempt to force the media to toe the government’s diktats.
The IPI urged the prime minister to reconsider the decision to promulgate the PMDA ordinance and withdraw it immediately, as it will have a devastating impact on a free media in a democracy that Pakistan promises to be.
Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2021