PFUJ, HRCP, PBC reject PMDA Ordinance 2021
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) have rejected the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance 2021.
“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,” a joint statement by the PFUJ, HRCP and PBC said.
The proposed law embodies the anti-media proclivities of an army of spokespersons the incumbent government has recruited, the statement said.
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, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 as amended by PEMRA Amendment Act 2007, and The Motion Pictures Ordinance 1979. All will be merged under Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).
The PFUJ, HRCP and PBC have warned that upending the current media regulatory regime will destroy all public media as it exists in Pakistan today. “This malafide step is another U-turn from the promises made by prime minister about expanding freedom of expression before he took oath of office. This ordinance will further tighten the grip of the government on all forms of media that includes print, electronic social media, drama and films,” the statement said.
The statement said that the proposal to nominate a Grade 22 bureaucrat to head the PMDA is tantamount to formalizing a regime of coercive censorship.
The media and lawyer organizations said that the proposed establishment of media tribunals to hand out punishments of up to three years in prison and up to Rs25 million in fines to content producers for violating the repressive new provisions is “nothing less than imposing media martial law.”
They said that they will take trade unions, academia, political parties and citizens organisations on board to resist such draconian attempts steps of the government.
“The government has already imposed a major censorship regime on mainstream media and it now wants to extend that from TV, radio and print to online journalism.”
They statement recalled that similar attempts made in the past through PEMRA and PTA in 2020 were not only vehemently opposed but outrightly rejected by all stakeholdersThey said the Islamabad High Court had given stay on PFUJ’s petition that challenged similar draconian social media rules.
The PFUJ, HRCP and PBC said that the proposed law will make it mandatory for all types of media including print, TV, radio, OTT and internet news websites, to obtain not only 5-year to 15-year licenses but annual NOCs to remain operational.
“This is censorship by another name as these not only raise entry barriers for new media players but also to keep older and more experienced media players hostage to the whims of bureaucrats, authoritarian politicians and behind the scene powers pulling strings to make media focused only on survival, not professionalism,” they added.
“The government and ruling party will itself become the biggest victim of the draconian law by crushing freedom of expression of citizens and media freedoms for journalists as no one will be left to speak for it and communicate with its constituents,” they further added.
“The proposed heavy fines and penalties will not be accepted to the PFUJ or any journalist in the country. This is aimed at undermining freedoms enshrined in the constitution guarantees under Articles 19 and 19-A. The propose law is ultra vires of the constitution and must be immediately withdrawn failing which country wide protests will be launched by journalists and concerned citizens,” the statement concluded.