ISLAMABAD: The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom in over 100 countries, in a letter to Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, on Friday called for withdrawal of Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance 2021, says a press release.
The letter says that IPI is, extremely concerned over the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance 2021 that his government has proposed, as IPI fears that implementation of this Ordinance will drastically curtail press freedom in the country.
The letters that while his government’s decision to appoint a committee to discuss the Ordnance with stakeholders is a positive move, IPI believes that the Ordnance itself should be withdrawn immediately, as there are sufficient mechanisms and processes available in the country to regulate the media and the PMDA will have a negative impact on the freedom of a vibrant and responsible media in Pakistan.
“In our view the proposal 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, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 as amended by PEMRA Amendment Act 2007, and The Motion Pictures Ordinance 1979 and replace it with an umbrella Authority to regulate the media will go against the democratic norms that Pakistan should uphold as a democracy. Pakistan has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights therefore it should honour its commitment by allowing the media to function without interference. We are concerned that the creation of a regulatory body that does not contain sufficient guarantees for independence serious risks undermining press freedom. Appointing a bureaucrat as head of the PMDA would compromise its independence, which is an essential element of any regulatory system. It is also contrary to recommendations made by Special Rapporteurs with a mandate for the protection of freedom of expression or freedom of the media, who have said that:
• The States should ensure that regulatory bodies for the media are independent, operate transparently and are accountable to the public, and respect the principle of limited scope of regulation, and provide appropriate oversight of private actors.
• Urge the development of an independent and multi-stakeholder oversight, transparency and accountability mechanisms to address private content rules that may be inconsistent with international human rights and interfere with individuals’ right to enjoy freedom of expression
It is also disturbing to note that PMDA will be empowered to shut down operations of a media group, seal the premises of a media outlet and seize equipment of media organizations without giving notice and, even more concerningly, without judicial oversight. Such a draconian provision will force journalists and media organizations to resort to self-censorship. Furthermore, the proposal to set up media tribunals with the power to impose punishments of up to three years imprisonment and a financial penalty of Rs25 million to content producers for violating the provisions in the proposed Ordnance is a clear attempt to force the media to toe the government’s diktats. We believe that creation of a parallel judicial system to deal with the media will be superfluous and unwarranted, as Pakistan has a functioning judicial system. Your excellency, we urge you to reconsider the decision of the government to promulgate the PMDA ordinance and withdraw it immediately, as it will have a devastating impact on a free media in a democracy that Pakistan promises to be.