September 11, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
As announced previously, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) will be staging what is expected to be a historic sit-in (dharna) outside the Parliament House, Islamabad, on Monday.
The sit-in is against the federal government’s plans to establish a new ‘headquarter of censorship’ named the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA). Journalists have called on all the segments of society to participate in the protest.
In a buildup to the sit-in outside the Parliament, journalists will be taking out a massive rally a day earlier, on Sunday, from the National Press Club to the Parliament House. Journalists from across the country, representatives of civil society, including lawyers and possibly opposition parties are to participate in the massive protest rally that will terminate in a sit-in outside the Parliament, according to the organisers.
In a statement on Saturday, the PFUJ has appealed to the entire journalists’ community, civil society, human rights groups, trade unions, workers’ associations, students’ groups, digital rights advocates and the citizens to join the dharna that will be staged on the eve of the President of Pakistan’s annual address to the joint sitting of the Senate and National Assembly scheduled for (Monday) September 13.
“It is time for unity around a common cause. The proposed PMDA will not just be a body to regulate the media sector but will serve as the central censorship office of the State aimed at regulating the freedoms of expression of all citizens of Pakistan,” reads a statement issued by PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and General Secretary Nasir Zaidi.
The journalists will hold a sit-in outside the Parliament on Monday to highlight their demands of reinstatement of sacked media workers, reverting cuts in pay and allowances of media workers, and shelving of a proposed single regularity authority for print, broadcast, and digital media in the shape of PMDA. The journalists’ sit-in outside the Parliament will coincide with the joint sitting of both houses for the annual address of President Arif Alvi.
Timing of Presidential address changed
Interestingly, a government announcement on Saturday said the time of President Alvi’s Monday address to the Parliament was moved up to 4 pm instead of the earlier scheduled 11 am. The announcement did not mention any reason for the change in the timings of the address.
“We are appealing to all sections of media, civil society and concerned citizens from all walks of life to join and participate in the peaceful PFUJ dharna on Monday morning outside the National Assembly in Islamabad,” the PFUJ leaders said.
A dharna (sit-in) camp will be established in front of parliament on the night of Sunday (September 12) and the leadership will spend the night in the camp till the conclusion of the joint sitting of the parliament on Monday.
“The dharna is aimed at demonstrating solidarity and pooling widespread support against the creation of PMDA and strategizing the protection of freedom of expression of citizens, defending the rights of journalists and pre-empting the planned assault on independent media in the country,” the PFUJ statement said.
The PFUJ leaders said that the continuous onslaught by the government against the rights of media workers, the safety of journalists and their economic strangulation has reached its highest limits ever leaving the media sector teetering on the brink of collapse.
“The PMDA is a planned one-window operation to impose widespread censorship through the pooling of the budgets of several media regulators thereby providing massive resources to government proxies to crack down on the media so that it becomes totally captured and too weak to provide professional coverage of upcoming elections,” the statement said.
“The proposed PMDA, therefore, is not just a media manipulation mechanism, it will also serve to undermine democracy and parliamentary system, which is why it is necessary for all journalists, workers, students, teachers, lawyers, activists and other citizens to join this dharna to foil the nefarious designs against democracy and free media in Pakistan,” the PFUJ leaders added.
Shahzada Zulfiqar and Nasir Zaidi urged the entire media community and civil society to show unity and commitment for the rights of journalists and citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information by opposing the coming “media martial law.”
The Supreme Court Bar Association, civil society organisations and opposition parties have expressed support for the demonstration and their representatives and activists will join the protest Sunday’s rally as well as the sit-in outside the Parliament.
Media associations back sit-in outside Parliament
Major media associations have also announced support for Monday’s sit-in outside Parliament House.
In a meeting on Friday, the Joint Action Committee of Media Organisations expressed full support for the PFUJ’s Monday demonstration n front of the Parliament House against the establishment of the proposed PMDA.
“All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), and the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) reiterated their stance of rejecting the proposed PMDA,” the Joint Action Committee (JAC) said.
In addition to all media representative organisations, the bar Associations, political parties, Human Rights organizations, and other civil society organizations will also participate in the sit-in, according to the JAC statement. All media associations in Joint Action Committee reiterated their commitment to thwart the government’s efforts to legislate for the establishment of the proposed Media Development Authority.
The journalists are also demanding an end to the financial crisis in the media industry that has seen thousands of journalists lose their jobs, face cuts in pays and allowances, and delayed salaries.