September 22nd, 2021
By Rehan Piracha & Ahmed Saeed
Digital journalists fear that the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority is an attempt to regulate the freedom of expression of all citizens instead of the government’s stated objective to stem fake news in the country.
This was stated in the findings of a report based on views of digital journalists about the implications of the proposed PMDA law. The findings were shared in a public discussion on the proposed PMDA, organised by Freedom Network Pakistan, in Lahore on Tuesday, 22nd September. Digital journalists, reporters from print and broadcast news organisations, and citizen information practitioners participated in the public discussion.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Iqbal Khattak, Executive Director of Freedom Network Pakistan, said the public discussion focused on implications for public interest digital journalism and citizen information practitioners in the wake of the proposed PMDA law.
According to the findings, the proposed PMDA law will pose great difficulties for digital media in the country. “Anybody who wishes to operate a YouTube channel, social media account or a website will need a license and pay a license and a renewal fee,” Khattak said. He said internet technology has provided a free platform to everybody with equal opportunity whether living in Khuzdar, Lahore and Karachi. “The social media platform will be no longer free as digital users will have to acquire licenses and pay a fee to the proposed regulatory authority and pay,” he explained.
Khattak said the digital media users and practitioners have to resist the regulatory intrusion which once implemented will leave no space for them at all. “This is no small legislation as it would impact the constitutional rights of freedom to information and freedom of expression of all citizens,” he added.
Journalists, media associations, and civil society have rejected the proposed law to regulate all media under a single regulatory mechanism, Khattak said. The government is holding discussions with stakeholders on the proposed law following strong opposition from all segments of society. “However, it cannot be said that the threat of the proposed PMDA has subsided,” he said.
“In my view, PMDA is a military-style command and control structure to regulate content across all media in the country,” Khattak said, adding the right of appeal in the proposed media regulation legislation has also been restricted by taking out the forum of high courts.
Adnan Rehmat, a media analyst, spoke on the findings of the report based on discussions with representatives of digital news outlets from the Digital Media Alliance Pakistan (DigiMAP).
Rehmat said the government proposed the PMDA law on the pretext of restricting fake news and better regulation of media. However, Rehmat said, digital journalists have expressed serious reservations to the proposed legislation. “According to the findings, the PMDA is more about regulating freedom of expression of citizens instead of stated objectives of controlling fake news,” he said.
He said the government has not stated any objections or reservations on the existing mechanism for the regulation of print and broadcast journalism. “No flaws in the working of existing media regulatory mechanism was pointed out by the government,” he added.
Secondly, representatives of digital media fear that the proposed PMDA would turn this new ecosystem of information into a replica of legacy print and broadcast media which is not oriented towards public interest issues, Rehmat said.
Expressing their reservations, digital media practitioners questioned the government’s rationale of imposing a blanket regulation across digital space which is a market and social place.
“It is not just current affairs but other human discourse going on in the digital space,” Rehmat explained.
According to Rehmat, the government’s contention of providing financial security to journalists and media workers under the proposed PMDA law is a distraction to control the public narrative. “It’s ridiculous in that there are existing laws providing job security to journalists which the government has failed to implement,” he said.
At the conclusion of the discussion, participants passed a resolution against the proposed PMDA legislation.
“Journalists reject the government’s proposed PMDA law and call on all political parties of the country, members of parliament, lawyers, teachers, students, workers, and unions of the government and private sector employees to also reject the proposed legislation and unite to thwart this condemnable move of the government,” reads the text of the resolution.