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September 19, 2019

Political parties, media, HR bodies reject media courts

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September 19, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Media bodies, civil society and political parties have rejected the government decision to form media courts and termed it anti-democracy step.

The PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the government was attempting to launch a witch-hunt against the media as well after holding opposition leaders hostage through the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

“The way they deal with their opponents and critics is reminiscent of the Salem witch trials. Based on frivolity and falsehoods, the PTI’s narrative is right out of Goebbels’ propaganda playbook,” he said in his reaction on the government move to form the media courts.

The PPP chairman said now that the government has found an easy way to imprison its political opponents by unleashing NAB, it is going to go after its critics in the media through these so-called media tribunals. “These tribunals will be nothing but another way of silencing dissent,” he said.

He said the PTI social media team follows the exact same path of Modi bhakts -- discrediting and harassing critics online. “Now they want to go after media organisations through these special tribunals because the media is exposing select PM’s ineptitude and incompetence,” he added.

Bilawal made it clear that the PPP will not let this bill pass at any cost and will stand for the freedom of media. He said Pakistan’s media is going through its worst phase of censorship under the Niazi regime. “We will not allow them to target the media so blatantly and brazenly. Enough is enough,” he said.

The PPP chairman said the media fraternity too must raise its voice for their own rights. “The opposition firmly stands behind them,” he stated.

Former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani said that any restrictions whatsoever on the media was an attack on democracy and a violation of Articles 19 and 19 (A) of the Constitution.

He cautioned that any restrictions whatsoever on the media was an attack on democracy. He said any such move would be condemned and resisted inside the Parliament.

“The media is already under severe censorship in the form of press advisory and measures of intimidation from ruling quarters which tantamount to censorship worse than in the days of martial law. The idea of setting up media courts is yet another manner of intimidating and bringing under pressure the media. This is out rightly rejected. Forums for resolution of disputes exist in the forum of the Press Council of Pakistan, Pemra Council of Complaints, Wage Board Implementation Tribunal and other laws and forums are available,” he said.

Rabbani added, “It appears that after being unsuccessful in foisting the Pemra draft, the government has now fallen back on such measures as establishing courts. He said the people of Pakistan have safeguarded their rights to freedom of expression and information which they utilise through the media. “We the citizens and parliamentarians will stand by the right of media to express its views without any form of monitoring,” he said.

The PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said media tribunals are being established to close media houses. He said the government wants to block the media’s voice through tribunals.

Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE) President Arif Nizami has also expressed grave concern over the government decision to establish media courts and termed it anti-democracy step.

Arif Nizami said the media is already facing unannounced restrictions and further restrictions will be imposed in shape of media tribunals.

He urged the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Pakistan Broadcasting Association (PBA) and other media bodies to form a joint strategy to counter this challenge.

All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) has also unequivocally rejected the federal cabinet’s decision to form special media tribunals as announced by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan.

Hameed Haroon, President, and Sarmad Ali, Secretary General of the APNS, have termed the formation of the special media tribunals without consultation with the media stakeholders, a black day for the Pakistan media. The decision is in complete violation of Article 19 of the Constitution. The special courts aimed at intimidating and strangulating the media and freedom of expression are not only unconstitutional but also contrary to the spirit of democracy as envisaged in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s New Pakistan – or indeed in any democracy.

The APNS called upon the federal cabinet to review its decision. "We also appeal to all the professional media bodies and press organizations representing both print and electronic, to support a call for urging the prime minister to intervene and facilitate a serious review of the federal cabinet's decision."

Both the president and secretary general of the APNS also announced their intent to approach the highest judicial and legislative forums to oppose this extra-constitutional measure through all means in consonance with the law of the land.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it was alarmed over the government’s announcement. “How are tribunals expected to maintain the media’s independence?” it said in a tweet. “Given the government’s woeful record on press freedoms, HRCP urges it to refrain from pressurising the media further,” it said.

Meanwhile, the PBA in a statement outrightly rejected the suggestion of establishing media tribunals. The PBA took serious note of the statement made by Firdous Ashiq Awan regarding establishment of media tribunals. Earlier too, the PBA had rejected the idea of establishing any media courts/tribunals and had asked the government to reveal the real purpose of this proposal.

“PBA believes that the idea of media tribunals/courts is mala fide, discriminatory and seems to be another effort to control media and restrict freedom of expression. There already exist laws, courts and regulatory authorities in the country to deal with media related issues,” said the statement.

The statement added that it is shocking that such a proposal is coming from a government that had promised before elections to not only uphold independence of media, but to encourage freedom of expression. The statement further said that already independent media is facing a huge crisis in Pakistan, as the government despite repeated commitments and promises has still not cleared its outstanding media dues.

Earlier, the PBA along with APNS had met with the prime minister requesting clearance of these dues and were promised that they would be paid before Eidul Fitr, 2019. “But media organisations continue to face financial crisis as the commitment has gone unfulfilled. It appears the honourable prime minister is being misled. PBA requests the prime minister to immediately announce the withdrawal of the proposal of setting up media tribunals,” the statement added.

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