ISLAMABAD: Law Minister Dr Farogh Naseem dropped hints of “good news” on Wednesday regarding the draft of the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) bill.
But the minister stopped short of explaining what he meant by good news, saying since the matter falls within the domain of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, the latter would speak about the changes proposed in the bill.
The observation came against the backdrop of opposition to the proposed bill by the media, civil society as well as political parties.
Senator Faisal Javed, who heads the Senate Standing Committee on Information, and other members of the panel had said on Tuesday they would reject the bill in the upper house if they were not satisfied about its usefulness.
Javed Latif, who chairs the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information, is opposed to the bill as well, indicating recently he would vote against it in a meeting of the committee, due soon.
Shehbaz Sharif, the PML-N chief, had stated last week that his party would form a joint committee of the opposition to stop the PTI-led government from introducing a ‘black law’ for setting up a regulatory authority for the media.
The committee will be tasked with analysing the legal and other facets of the bill and propose a strategy.
Speaking to the media after an oath-taking ceremony of newly elected members of the Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS) at the law ministry on Wednesday, Dr Farogh Naseem said he was committed to a free media and had done his best to uphold freedom of expression.
The law minister made the observations after Amjad Nazir Bhatti, the PAS president, conveyed to him journalists’ apprehensions that the bill would muzzle dissent.
Dr Farogh Naseem called upon journalists to guard against “black sheep in your ranks” and discourage fake news since it was a disservice to the country.
He recalled a famous quote from novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “Pen is mightier than the sword”, and said he himself worked as a freelance journalist in England before joining the legal profession.
In reply to a question about legal reforms, Dr Naseem said the law ministry had proposed 800 to 900 amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), the Law of Evidence (Qanoon-i-Shahdat), the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and a number of other laws.
The amendments will soon be placed before the cabinet for its approval and then tabled in parliament, he added.
One of the amendments proposed in the CrPC calls for the acceptance of audio and video evidence in courts. Another amendment makes the trial court judge answerable to the supervisory higher court if a trial is not completed within nine months.
The government intends to make laws for the empowerment of women and to introduce a journalist protection bill in parliament, Dr Farogh Naseem said.
The minister said a forensic laboratory would be established in the federal capital soon.
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2021