KARACHI: Media sta­keholders have expressed serious concern over the proposed Punjab Defam­a­tion Bill 2024 and the federal governm­ent’s propo­sed ‘Digital Media Auth­ority’, saying that the bill appears draconian in its current form.

The Joint Action Com­mittee, which consists of the Pakistan Broa­dcasters Association (PBA), All Pa­­kistan Newspapers Socie­­ty (APNS), Council of Pak­istan Newspaper Edi­tors (CPNE), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Assoc­ia­tion of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND), issued a joint statement on Thursday.

It said that media bodies were not against strengthening the defamation laws or regulating digital media after strengthening defamation laws, but the law in its current form “threatens the fundamental right to freedom of expression”.

The JAC emphasised the need for detailed and purposeful consultation with all stakeholders to address weaknesses of the proposed bill, adding that any legislation in this regard must strike a delicate balance between protecting individual rights and upholding the principles of freedom of expression.

The JAC statement demanded that the Punjab and federal governments hold extensive discussions with media organisations and other stakeholders to thoroughly examine the implications of the proposed legislation on freedom of expression and postpone the passing of the bill in the assembly until then.

“The JAC remains committed to engaging constructively with the government to ensure that the defamation legislation and code for digital media if enacted is fair, just, and in line with democratic principles,” the statement noted.

In a separate statement, AEMEND rejected the draft defamation legislation, saying that hurriedly adopting any law without consulting the relev­ant stakeholders would be tantamo­u­­nt to throttling freedom of expression.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2024

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