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September 12, 2017

Govt orders probe into sending of controversial draft ordinance to Press Council

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September 12, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Due to efforts of journalistic bodies including APNS, CPNE and PFUJ, the controversial draft Pakistan Print Media Regulatory Authority (PPMRA) Ordinance has met its drop scene as Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and State Minister for Information Marriyam Aurangzeb have taken action against the officers who sent the draft to the Press Council of Pakistan and ordered an inquiry.

The journalistic bodies announced that they will not tolerate media gags and will work together to stop any conspiracy in this regard. Qazi Asad Abid from APNS, Amir Mehmoodand Anwar Sajidi from CPNE, and Afzal Butt, Nasir Zaidi, and Khurshid Tanveer in addition to representatives of the civial society expressed these views in a press conference at National Press Club (NPC) following a meeting of the Council.

Qazi Asad Abid said the journalistic bodies rejected the controversial draft ordinance and termed it as ‘black law’ during meeting of the Council. He said Mujeebur Rehman Shami met the prime minister who told him that it is not his government’s policy to bring up such a controversial law and he is unaware of it. The prime minister told Shami that the government could not think of making any anti-media law as its policy on freedom of press is very clear, adding that reservations of journalists will be removed, said Abid.

He said PFUJ President Afzal But met the state minister for information, who told him that she was unaware of the affair of the controversial law, adding that neither she saw the controversial draft nor had she approved of it. She said secretary information had told him that he is also unaware of the matter. She told Butt that the matter will be investigated for which a committee has been formed. She said the officer responsible for sending this draft to the Council has been made officer on special duty (OSD).

CPNE representative Amir Mehmood said today will be remembered in the history of Pakistan when the three big stakeholders of media came on one page for the sake of freedom of press. He said they have contended that they will not let go to waste the sacrifices rendered for freedom of media.

PFUJ President Afzal Butt said that journalists were in unrest after news of the controversial draft surfaced. He said the draft had eclipsed the measures dictators took to curb media freedom. He said the PFUJ had rejected the draft after looking at it and thanked APNS and CPNE for making a joint front for the sake of media freedom. PFUJ representative Nasir Zaidi said that today they have given a message to conspirators that all journalistic bodies are together for the sake of media freedom. He also thanked representatives of APNS and CPNE.  

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi categorically assured APNS that the government is not contemplating any change in the present legal structure of print media. However, any law or amendment if needed will be undertaken in consultation with the APNS, CPNE, PFUJ and other stakeholders.

He reiterated the resolve of his government to protect and ensure the Freedom of press as enshrined in the Constitution. Umer Mujib Shami, secretary general of APNS, called on the Prime Minister to express concerns of APNS on the proposed draft PPMRA Ordinance.

The APNS stated that the proposed law reported in a section of press appears a draconian and repressive law which may badly affect freedom of expression in the country attained by the media after prolonged and protracted struggle.

He stated that the Ministry of Information has dug out notorious law promulgated by dictator Ayub Khan from the dustbin of the history namely Press and Publications Ordinance 1964. The PPO was replaced by the Press Newspapers News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance 2002 on the strong protest and struggle of media and the democratic forces.

The APNS Secretary General informed the Prime Minister that the proposed law contravenes the provisions of 18th Amendment and will be completely rejected by the APNS and other media organizations. He requested that the proposed law be withdrawn immediately. The Prime Minister assured the APNS that no law inconsistent with Article 19 of the Constitution would be framed by the government and if any law to improve the status of print media is required, the government would ensure meaningful consultation with the stakeholders before promulgating such law. The Secretary General APNS thanked the Prime Minister for the clarification.

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has expressed its satisfaction that the government has announced to withdraw the proposed draft law. However, it has demanded that the forces behind this conspiracy be exposed.

"When the Prime Minister and the Information Minister say that they had no information about such a draft law, the biggest question is who are those forces which were trying to introduce this draconian law through the Ministry of Information," a statement issued by the PFUJ said.

The government must expose such forces as well as take to task those officers of the Press Information Department who were colluding with these forces. "The forces who want to shackle the press must know that the PFUJ will never compromise on the freedom of press and is ready to fight any such move in the future too," the statement said.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Monday suspended Assistant Director Saadullah Mahar (Internal Publicity Wing) while two senior officers were made OSDs after reports surfaced that the government had planned a law to control and regulate the print media without taking the stakeholders on board.

According to an order issued by the ministry with signature of Secretary Sardar Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera, an inquiry committee has also been constituted over 'Pakistan Print Media Regulatory Ordinance, 2017'. The inquiry committee is headed by External Publicity Wing Director General Shafqat Jalil.

The committee will furnish and send its findings to the secretary within three days. Until then, two senior officials of the ministry, Nasir Jamal and Tahir Hussain, have been made officers on special duty. Nasir is Director General of Internal Publicity Wing and Tahir Hasan is Director of the wing.

The order says that neither State Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb nor the information secretary issued any directives for the formation of a law to regulate print media. Afterwards, talking to journalists here, the state minister for information said three to four letters were written, using her name. However, she made it clear that no law to impose restrictions on the print media was being prepared.

She condemned the news issued regarding the Press Council of Pakistan, which suggested that the Information Ministry intended to disband the council. The minister confirmed that a committee has been constituted over the matter and that its report would be made public.

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