FRANKFURT: The World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the International Publishers Association (IPA), and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have called on Pakistani authorities to retract plans to establish the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA), saying that the entity would place "strict state controls over media".
A statement issued by WAN-IFRA stated that the proposed changes to the existing frameworks under the pretence of “simplifying procedures and fighting misinformation” aim at centralising all regulations pertaining to the media under a single authority.
“The PMDA would replace the media regulatory bodies and would oversee films, electronic, print and digital media across every domain, from registrations to wages, licensing to the allocation of government advertising, as well as both civil and criminal complaints procedures,” read the statement.
Moreover, the statement said that serious concerns have also been raised regarding the proposed PMDA – notably a perceived lack of independence of media from the government as half of the authority’s board members, including the chairman, will be appointed by the state.
It maintained that WAN-IFRA, IPA, and IJF are alarmed by the provision that vests the proposed authority the power to shortlist members of media tribunals, to hand down punishments of up to three years in jail, and fines of up to a Rs25 million — which is approximately $150,000 — while the decisions made by the media tribunals can only be appealed before the Supreme Court.
In addition to this, the three organisations have expressed serious concerns about the secrecy behind the process of drafting the PDMA law, with the bill having only recently been shared by the government and receiving no input from media or civil society stakeholders.
The concerns also include that though the committee that will allow the media organisations to consult with Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on the proposals for the PMDA had been established in mid-September, while the first meeting of the committee has yet to be called.
WAN-IFRA CEO Vincent Peyrègne said that the association urges the government of Pakistan to actively collaborate with the media representatives on “any such proposed law”, given its wide-ranging authority and a high potential for the infringement of freedom of media.
“Declarations from the government that explain the new law simply as a strategy to curb disinformation only confirm suspicions that it is instead a set of broad regulations designed to undermine critical speech and unduly control the media,” said Peyrègne.
Meanwhile, IPA secretary-general said that “the association stands alongside news publishers and journalists in calling for the Pakistani authorities to withdraw their plans for PMDA”.
“The potential impact on freedom of expression and the freedom to publish is clear and it is alarming to see the current health crisis being used as cover to stifle independent media.”
Moreover, IFJ Secretary-General Anthony Bellanger said that the PMDA threatens to further curtail freedom of media in Pakistan.
“The IFJ strongly urges Pakistan’s government to listen to the industry and take a step back, consult and engage with the media on much-needed reforms that will support and enable a sustainable, strong and independent media into the future,” said Bellanger.
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