September 18th, 2021
By Hamid Riaz and Ahmed Saeed
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) held a meeting of its’ federal executive council (FEC) on September 17 which was attended by journalists’ unions from 32 different cities in Pakistan. The meeting was called only a day after the announcement of a series of nationwide protest rallies and a long march (expected to be held in November) from Quetta to Islamabad to resist the federal government’s attempt to impose the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) on Pakistan’s journalist community. PFUJ maintained that the PMDA is just an attempt to further muzzle an already struggling press in the country.
The FEC was presided over by veteran activists and journalists including Nasir Zaidi and Shahzada Zulfiqar, General Secretary and President of PFUJ. The meeting was also attended by presidents of all major press clubs of Pakistan including Lahore, Karachi, Hyderabad, Islamabad, Quetta, and Khyber. The press club presidents strongly dispelled rumors of their support for the PMDA. They asserted their firm support for PFUJ’s resistance movement.
PFUJ Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said that after the conventions in major cities of Pakistan, a long march would begin from Quetta in the first week of November which would pass through Sukkur, Hyderabad, Karachi, Gujranwala, and Lahore before culminating in a grand sit-in outside the parliament house in Islamabad.
“We have already announced a 19-point charter for our protest campaign. In addition to pushing back against the PMDA black law we also want to focus on the financial troubles of media workers and other informal mechanisms of censorship imposed on the media industry,” says Nasir Zaidi.
According to Nasir Zaidi, the Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry was deliberately spreading false information regarding the PMDA law and refused to accept his own prepared and distributed draft. He maintained that the government should announce the withdrawal instead of trying to confuse the journalists’ community with vague announcements.
“We will keep resisting until the government categorically and publicly announces that it will cease any further attempts to impose this law,” asserts Zaidi.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, President of PFUJ, declared that the federal information minister Fawad Chaudhry claims that the PMDA law is directed towards curtailing the spread of fake news while at the same time he employs fake news to misdirect the public about this very law.
“No sane journalist can support the spread of fake news. But the irony of our country is that the biggest proponents of fake news (we all know who that is) are allowed to operate freely while working journalists are censored in the name of fake news,” says PFUJ president Shazada Zulfiqar.
Meanwhile the Punjab Union of Journalists (PUJ) President Qamar Bhatti said that unemployment was already on the rise in the country due to which young people have turned to digital media as a source of much-needed income but now the government wants to snatch away this avenue from them by imposing heavy fees and fines.
“We are not opposed to the regularization of digital news outlets or the registration of digital journalists because we believe that there must be a formal database of working journalists for identification purposes. But the process and fee should not be so heavy as to crush these outlets. Additionally, there is nothing wrong with holding people accountable for spreading fake news but there should be a defined criterion for this. Merely spreading any information should not be categorized as fake news,” explains Bhatti.
Rana Sanaullah, the President of the Pakistan Muslin League’s (PML-N) Punjab chapter also made a guest appearance at the FEC meeting and assured the journalist community of his party’s complete support for their movement “we will welcome your rallies in each and every city of Punjab,” he announced.