August 12th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
In a unanimous stand against the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) law, the representatives of the media industry called it an attempt by the federal government to subjugate the freedom of press and freedom of expression in the country.
On August 11, a joint statement of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND), totally rejected the government’s proposed move to regulate the print, electronic and social media in the country through a singular authority called PMDA.
In a briefing to joint sitting of National Assembly and Senate standing committees on information over the proposed PMDA bill on Wednesday, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary said the PMDA bill would be tabled in the National Assembly in the coming 10 days, adding that the government intended to enforce the PMDA law within two months in the country.
PMDA draconian and authoritarian law
Reacting to the minister’s statement of going ahead with the proposed media authority, the media organisations ‘termed the concept as an unconstitutional and draconian law against the freedom of press and expression and step toward imposing the state control to regulate all segments of media under over-centralized body’.
“The major stakeholders believe that the PMDA is an attempt to tighten Federal Government control over the media from one platform and ignores the fact that print, electronic and social media are separate entities each with their own defined features,”reads the joint statement of APNS, CPNE, PBA, PFUJ and AMEND.
The representatives of media industry called upon the joint parliamentary panel on information to reject the government’s proposal to establish an authoritarian media regulatory authority in the country.
“The move to bring under state control smacks of an authoritarian streak that should have no place in democratically elected dispensation. The representatives of media organizations have urged upon the joint meeting of the Senate and National Assembly on Information to reject the proposal completely,” the joint statement concluded.
‘Social media a big problem’
Interestingly, the information minister spoke about the difficulties in regulating social media in the country, mentioning that the country has a regulatory mechanism for newspapers through the Press Council of Pakistan and for broadcast channels through the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).
“The social media is causing a big problem,” the information minister told committee members, besides referring to issues with popular short video sharing platform TikTok, that has been banned on court orders thrice in the last months. “Privacy concerns on social media have to be addressed,” the minister said, adding that an available forum under the law of civil courts has failed miserably to address concerns against social media.
‘Fine raised to Rs 250 million for violations’
In his briefing, Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry said under the proposed PMDA law, the fine for violations is being raised from Rs 1 million to Rs 250 million. According to sources, the minister told the committee members that three owners of news channel had approached him and agreed to support the PMDA on condition of excluding media tribunal from the PMDA law and reducing the fine from Rs 25 million.
Responding to reservations over the proposed PMDA by Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar from Pakistan Peoples Party in the meeting, Fawad Chaudhry said the government wanted to hear the suggestions of senators and members of the National Assembly on the proposed bill. However, Chaudhry said comments were being made without reading the bill.
“Seven bodies are playing their role in regulating media but there are flaws. An effective legislation is being made by bringing all of them together. A detailed consultation has been held with all the stakeholders,” the federal information claimed. The seven media regulatory bodies he referred to are PEMRA, Press Council Pakistan, Pakistan Telecom Authority, Censor Board, Press Registrar’s Office, Audit Bureau of Circulation and Implementation Tribunal for Newspapers Employees.
“Digital media was nowhere to be regulated. Under this proposed legal framework, all the laws of media regulation are being scrapped. New legislation is being framed in consultation with all the stakeholders to make matters as transparent as possible,” he said.
Opposition not represented in joint meeting: Nawaz Khokhar
Earlier, PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar rose to point out that the entire opposition including PMLN did not attend the meeting and that they would stage a walkout for not fulfilling legal formalities to convene the meet.
He said that a prior permission had to be sought from the Senate chairman and NA Speaker for a standing committee meeting outside the Parliament House. He also noted that no representative of the NA Secretariat was present in the meeting.
To this, Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting chairman Senator Faisal Javed showed him a copy of a document regarding permission from the Senate chairman in this regard. The information minister said MNA Marriyum Aurangzeb had asked for this important meeting and she should have attended it. However, PPP Senators walked out of the meeting.
According to the outline of the PMDA given by the information minister, the PMDA will have a chairman and 12 members, out of which six will be technical experts from the private sector.
The authority will have five directorates of film and digital media, electronic media, print media, media literacy and administration /finance. There will be a media complaints commission which will have five members. There will also be a media tribunal consisting of 10 members chaired by a judge of superior court. There will be two members from each province and Islamabad will have one member. The media comlplaint commission will be initially launched in seven cities of the country.
Govt open to consult digital media representatives
According to sources, the federal government has also expressed willingness to consult stakeholders from digital media platforms over the proposed PMDA law. In this regard, the Digital Media Alliance Pakistan, a representative forum of digital media outlets, is expected to hold a meeting with Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary over issues faced by the digital media platforms in the country.
In a separate statement, the PFUJ said the proposed PMDA is designed to further tighten grip of the government on all forms of media that includes electronic, print and online media though incompetent grade 21and 22 officials of information cadre.
President PFUJ Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said monopolistic approaches to law making in democratic setup and elected governments always proved disastrous not only for the government but also ruins the basic fabric of the society.
“Such laws are always helpful and ideal for dictators and authoritarian regimes but not suitable for democracy and elected regimes, ” Zaidi told Voicepk.net.