March 3rd, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
Four more print and broadcast media associations have challenged a controversial cybercrime amendment ordinance as Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhary announced that the government has asked Punjab Assembly Speaker Pervaiz Elahi, a member of the government coalitionû, to hold negotiations with media representatives over proposing safeguards in the law.
According to news reports, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q leader Pervaiz Elahi expressed his reservations over the cybercrime ordinance in a phone call to the federal information minister on March 2. Earlier, Federal Information Minister Amin-ul-Haq, a member of another coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, had written to the prime minister to roll back the ordinance in view of concerns and opposition expressed by media representatives.
Speaking in a program hosted by Shahzaib Khanzada on Geo News channel, the federal information minister said the government has asked Elahi to mediate with media representatives over concerns that the cybercrime law targeted freedom of expression in the country. The minister said Elahi had called him to convey concerns expressed by a delegation of media representatives that had met the Punjab Assembly speaker over the PECA Ordinance. “In the phone call with Elahi, we asked him to listen to media representatives and then also hear what the government has to say about the PECA Ordinance,” Fawad Chaudhary told the show host.
“We would place any recommendations made by Elahi over the PECA law before the federal cabinet for approval,” the minister said in response to a question whether the government would repeal the ordinance if Elahi said so after the negotiations with media representatives.
On March 2, the Pakistan Broadcasters Association, All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors, and the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors filed petitions with the Islamabad High Court against the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) Amendment Ordinance promulgated last month. The court has already clubbed petitions by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and the Lahore High Court Bar Association for further hearing on the matter on March 10.
In their petitions, the media associations stated that the amendments in PECA would kill freedom of expression because “the fear of being dragged into criminal proceedings by the investigating agency on the complaint of any member of the public for alleged defamation of public officials are bound to chill free speech and fair comment”.