24th August 2021
New York-based rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday, August 23, denounced the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) as a move to bolster the government’s powers to control, censor and punish media outlets and journalists as part of an ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression in Pakistan.
The HRW held that the PMDA has raised apprehensions among media workers and civil society activists for being a law that was drafted in complete secrecy and sans any consultative process. The body reiterated the concerns of media workers, rights activists and lawyers that the proposed Authority will grant it unfettered powers via the establishment of special media tribunals that will be vested with the authority to impose fines on media outlets and journalist who it finds has violated the PMDA’s code of conduct or published “fake news”.
“The media regulatory framework in Pakistan does need to be amended,” the statement read, with the HRW further imploring the need to create independent media regulators dedicated to protecting free expression in Pakistan, rather than to centralize more powers in government censors. “With journalists under relentless attack for doing their jobs, the Pakistan government needs to stop trying to control reporters and instead start protecting media freedom.”
In a Monday presser with digital broadcasters, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry provided that there are currently seven laws that regulate media in Pakistan, including the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), the Press Council, the Implementation Tribunal for Newspapers Employees (ITNE), and the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) for newspaper registrations. He stated that all these laws will be abolished in order to usher in the umbrella PMDA.
Chaudhry also further stated that although there are no provisions for criminal liability in the PMDA, the body will however be afforded powers to impose fines of up to Rs. 250 million on TV channels.
In a Tuesday meeting with various journalist consortiums including the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Fourth Pillar International and Young Journalist Association in Islamabad, the Information Minister also asserted that there will be no compromise on clauses regarding fake news and rights of journalists in the proposed PMDA Bill. He however added the government is welcome to suggestions on remaining clauses.