ALL major bodies representing the media have rightly rejected the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority and termed the intended law behind it a draconian one. In a joint statement, the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, Pakistan Broadcasters Association, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors have criticised the law and termed it a step towards state control of all segments of the media. The media organisations have urged parliament to reject the proposed body. The government wants this single body to be solely responsible for regulating the print, electronic and digital media.
These media organisations and associations have done well to raise the red flag over the formation of this media body. The proposed law gives sweeping powers to the body to control independent media organisations through coercive measures. The federal government, through its appointed members, will exercise control over the PMDA and will be able to take punitive measures against media organisations, rendering the independence of the media redundant. If the authority is allowed to be formed, it would amount to throttling freedom of expression in Pakistan and inflicting a mortal blow on the media industry. This proposed law is illustrative of the authoritarian streak that is so pronounced in the present government and it will get weaponised through the powers accorded to the PMDA. The last few years have taken a heavy toll on the media industry both in terms of financial and editorial pressures. These have led to painful job cuts and the shrinking of space for quality journalism. It is also an unfortunate fact that the government has displayed intolerance towards criticism and used its powers to punish media organisations and individual journalists who have been critical of its policies. If the PMDA is formed, it would enable the government to bludgeon the media into silence. It is the responsibility of parliament to see this proposed law for what it is — a naked attempt to muzzle the media — and reject it. Civil society should also raise its voice against this draconian law and help build pressure to scuttle the move. Pakistan needs more media freedom, not less, so it can help strengthen representative democracy in the country and inject greater transparency into the affairs of the state. The PMDA is a regressive move and should remain stillborn.
Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2021