15th September 2021
The Federal Information Ministry led by Fawad Chaudhry has announced the formation of a consultation committee to discuss and make improvements to the (widely opposed) Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) law.
In addition to representatives of the ministry the consultation committee includes representatives of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), Council of Pakistani Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND).
The PMDA is expected to abolish all existing regulatory authorities and laws related to all types of media (print, electronic, film, radio and digital), and consolidate them under the umbrella of a single regulatory body. The Authority will have the power to grant, rescind and extend licences to media houses, operate tribunals in case of a challenge to the PMDA or its complaints councils’ decisions, and determine media workers’ wages and resolve wage disputes. Furthermore, the proposed law will empower the government to issue directives to the PMDA as well as nominate members for appointment.
The bill has been vehemently criticised and denounced for the aforementioned provisions that journalists, civil society organizations and legal fraternities have termed “draconian.” Critics are of the view that the PMDA will be the gateway to direct targeting, censorship and censuring of media entities critical of the government and its policies.
Journalists from all across Pakistan coalesced outside the Parliament building on Sunday, August 12, to register their strong protest against the proposed legislation. On the second day of protests, the demonstrators were joined by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chair Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) politician and Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif, who vowed to block the passage of the bill in Parliament.
Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urged the government to initiate a transparent and inclusive review of existing regulatory laws, while pointing to the ongoing media workers’ protest against the PMDA as a reaction to their exclusion from the determination of such reforms.
The IFJ stated that at a time when the freedom of the media is in retrograde, bulldozing the proposed PMDA through Parliament will only further mar Pakistan’s reputation in the eyes of the world in terms of ever-increasing media control.
While Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry has reiterated that the PMDA is in part a response to an apparent need to curb disinformation and misinformation on social media, the IFJ expressed its grave concern over the lack of transparent and clear process of industry consultation as well as the failure to make publicly available the full draft of the proposed law for industry consultation and input.
However, Mazari on Tuesday announced that the bill’s draft has yet to be finalised, and will be sent to the Cabinet for approval before being tabled in the National Assembly. She then further suggested that journalists should rather urge Bilawal Bhutto to expedite approval of the government’s journalists’ protection bill from the Standing Committee on Human Rights which he chairs.