September 6, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Female journalists have demanded that the government scrap the draconian Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) law and push media owners to restore their pay and allowances which were cut during the COVID-19 pandemic throughout last year.
The women journalists also called upon the government to lift restrictions on news anchors and take measures to protect journalists facing lay-offs and unpaid salaries. They also reiterated their resolve to participate in the protest rally and sit-in outside Parliament next scheduled next week.
The demands were made in a webinar, organized by the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ), for women journalists across the country. About 40 journalists including Munizae Jahangir, Asma Shirazi, Gharida Farooqi, as well as writers Nayyar Ali, and Kishwar Naheed participated in the webinar.
“We have seen such government tactics. We haven’t bowed before and we won’t bow now,” Asma Shirazi said to fellow panellists. She said that the humiliation of senior journalists by the ministers in the recent government meeting made it clear what would happen in the coming days. “It’s all part of a bigger agenda,” she added. The government wants to create a society where eyes and ears are shut, she added.
Shirazi reiterated that the journalists would press ahead with their protests. “Governments have come and gone, but journalists’ organizations will always remain,” she added.
Senior journalist Munizae Jahangir said media was stuck in statement journalism in Pakistan. Quoting historian Ayesha Jalal and fellow panellist Nadia Naqvi, Jahangir said Pakistan places no premium on credibility, that is why it has no credibility.
“Journalists had been coaxed into extolling state narratives and discouraged from questioning such narratives, she said. Journalism has been limited to “anchorism” whereby certain anchors create sensationalism on television screens, she added.
Jahangir said journalists had to watch out for talibanisation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the result of curbs and restrictions, seasoned Pakistani journalists could not report on events happening in Afghanistan.
“It’s unfortunate that foreign media broke the events that are happening in Afghanistan instead of Pakistani journalists,” she pointed out.
However, she said journalists were looking towards PFUJ to help revive the noble profession of journalism in the country.
“It’s imperative that we protest on streets today otherwise our next generation won’t have any future,” she concluded.
In the webinar, Kishwar Naheed said that the ban on media started from General Ayub’s regime and media restrictions peaked under General Zia’s dictatorship. There have been all kinds of censorship but the present government has broken all limits in this regard, she said.
Anchorperson Gharida Farooqi said that the government was backing away from the PMDA draft on one hand, while saying that journalists will be briefed on it. The information minister says there is no such thing, she added.
“The sword of national security hangs over our heads all the time. The PMDA will maintain its monopoly in the name of national security. This is an example of dictatorship,” Farooqi said.
“Video bloggers are being used to malign working journalists,” she said.
Journalists participating in the webinar reiterated that a rally would be held on September 12 against the establishment of the authority and a sit-in would be called on September 13.
Secretary RIUJ Ali Raza Alvi highlighted the key points of the PMDA draft.
“According to the draft, the authority will have a chairperson and 11 members,” he said. The order of the authority cannot be challenged in any lower court or high court and the relevant forum will be the Supreme Court only.
According to the draft, any channel owner, journalist, reporter or anchor who fails to present evidence to the authority will be fined Rs250million and will be imprisoned for five years. It is being asked where a journalist will get that amount of money from when their salary is not so much.
Ali Raza Alvi added that the government wants to control print, electronic, digital media and film. According to the draft, all people will also get a license from the first authority for their YouTube and Instagram, which will contain the terms. If the conditions are not met, the license will be cancelled.
He said that after the establishment of the authority, PEMRA and Media Ordinance will also come to an end and become inactive. All content in the digital media will be subject to the proposed authority, otherwise, it will be considered illegal. On the occasion, journalist Mazhar Abbas added that the PMDA authority will also have the power to publish books. According to Ali Raza Alvi, the draft has been sent to the Law Ministry.
Female journalists participating in the webinar included Nasira Zuberi, Fauzia Kulsoom Rana, Tanzeela Mazhar, Amber Shamsi, Nadia Mirza, Aisha Bukhsh, Nadia Naqi, Sana Hashmi, Absa Komal, Shakeela Jalil, Farzana Ali and Iffat Hussain Rizvi.