Thursday July 18, 2024

PFUJ, HRCP, PBC to oppose muzzling of media

By Our Correspondent
May 29, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) have rejected the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance 2021 that the federal government intends to impose.

The proposed law is draconian in scope and devastating in its impact on the constitutional principles and guarantees for freedom of expression, media freedoms, and the right to information as well as the profession of journalism,’ said the PFUJ, HRCP and PBC in a strongly worded joint statement. PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary-General Nasir Zaidi along with HRCP Chairperson Hina Jilani and Secretary-General Harris Khalique and PBC Vice-Chairman Khushdil Khan have raised serious objections to the draft of the ordinance. They have said that it reflects a mindset hostile to the concept of people’s freedom of expression and right to information. It embodies the anti-media proclivities of an army of spokespersons the incumbent government has recruited.

The ordinance proposes to repeal all current media-related laws, including the Press Council Ordinance 2002, the Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance 2002, the Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Services Acts) 1973, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 as amended by the PEMRA Amendment Act 2007, and the Motion Pictures Ordinance 1979. All these will be merged under the PMDA.

The PFUJ, HRCP and PBC warned that upending the current media regulatory regime, as proposed in the law, would destroy all public media as it exists in Pakistan today.

“This malafide step is another U-turn from the promises made by the prime minister to expand freedom of expression before he took oath of office. This ordinance will further tighten the grip of the government on all forms of media, including print, electronic, and social media, and drama and films,” the statement said.

The proposal to nominate a Grade 22 bureaucrat to head the PMDA is tantamount to formalising a regime of coercive censorship.

The PFUJ, HRCP and PBC also decried the proposed establishment of media tribunals to hand down punishments of up to three years in jail and Rs25 million in fines to content producers for violating the repressive new provisions. “The proposed ordinance is nothing less than imposing “media martial law,” the media and civil society leadership said. They vowed to resist such draconian steps by the government by taking trade unions, academia, political parties and citizens’ organisations on board.

“The government has already imposed a major censorship regime on the mainstream media and it now wants to extend that to TV, radio and print to online journalism.”

The statement recalled that similar attempts in the past through PEMRA and the PTA in 2020 were not only vehemently opposed, but also outrightly rejected by all stakeholders, including the PFUJ, HRCP, PBC and human and digital rights groups, national and international media watchdogs, and global social media service providers. They said that the Islamabad High Court had given a stay on the PFUJ’s petition that challenged similar draconian social media rules.

The PFUJ, HRCP and PBC also said that the proposed law would make it mandatory for all types of media, including print, TV, radio, OTT and internet news websites, to obtain not only five-year to 15-year licences but also annual no-objection certificates to remain operational.

“This is censorship by another name as these not only raise entry barriers for new media players but also keep older and more experienced media players hostage to the whims of bureaucrats, authoritarian politicians and behind-the-scene managers.”