Pakistan Media Development Authority: A draconian law to curb the media freedom

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Current Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf(PTI) government has proposed a new body with the title of Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA). It has been believed that PMDA will be a regulatory institution that can “cater to the business and professional needs of all forms of media and their users”, as per government version, PMDA is meant to substitute the present “cracked” regulatory environment and “split” media regulation done by multiple bodies.

Apparently it seems that the Pakistan Media Development Authority is being established to curb the difference of opinion on media. Journalist communities and organizations believe that it is one of the harshest efforts to gag the media and press.

While speaking to Eat News Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib said we are in consultation with all stakeholders including opposition parties and media representative organizations. The basic reason to introduce this bill is the development of media, it is not about policing of media; which include the job security of the media community, media workers and working journalists, to filter and eliminate the element of fake news elements. There should be a mechanism to regulate the digital media in the country as the government has observed that this particular media is not following the responsibility steps while reporting on any issue which creates panic in the society. As far as digital media regulation is concerned I am not talking about individuals, I am talking about the organizations such as Netflix, YouTube, Facebook. “The said organizations should have their offices in Pakistan and they work under some framework.  This bill is about development of media and not about any restriction on media. We believe in the freedom of expression but it shouldn’t be limitless and there should be some boundaries of responsibility” he added.

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Pakistani TV channels and newspapers are continuously airing and publishing advertisements against this bill. It is mentioned in the advertisements that the current Tehreek Insaf (PTI) government has assured a free media in its manifesto. Such kinds of proposed legislations are not only violations of the PTI manifesto but also will severely damage the democratic norms in the country.

Member National Assembly (MNA) and Central information Secretary Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians Ms. Shazia Marri has said that the current government wants to cover up its all misdoings by PMDA. Ms. Marri said “PTI is afraid of the public voice; the media is a mirror of society and truth. They (PTI government) do not wish to face the reality”.  While criticizing the country’s PM, she said “Imran Khan cannot face the fact and he thought the only truth is ‘what he says himself.’ The PTI government itself was a product of fake news. Government is passing laws which are against media freedom” she added. She said her party is standing with journalists and human rights activists and acknowledged the sacrifices of the journalists.

Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) is biggest opposition party of the country, Ms. Marriyum Aurangzeb; official spokesperson of PML-N has labeled the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) as ‘black laws’. She blamed that PTI government is corrupt, ineligible and incompetent; this is the reason they are passing extra constitution law in the country. She said the Pakistani premier imposing bans on constitutional rights and civil liberties, he turned out to be ‘the worst dictator’.

During an interview with Eat News Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said that disparagement by PML-N on PMDA is baseless, as reviewing procedure on this bill is underway. He ensured that anything against the media in the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) would be changed if pointed out by any of the stakeholders. “Accusing government effort by simply saying that this ordinance is against the freedom of media is not suitable”, he added

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In the Karachi journalist community, members of the civil society, human rights and political activists, academics and trade unionists gathered in seminar and vowed to initiate a joint attempt against the establishment of Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).  In seminar speakers said, to control the digital, broadcast and print media, the government is interested in launching the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) as a regulatory body. Participants of the seminar were convinced that in Pakistan media regulations are ‘by and large’ constructed to hold back the media rather than to protect it. Rather than facing criticism, the government is trying to suppress the media which is not only against the constitution but also against the democratic norms.  It is also claimed that media forums in the country including Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Press Clubs and other stakeholders had not been made part of the consultative procedure in PMDA.

International journalist organization ‘Reporters without border’ ranked Pakistan 145 out of 180 in terms of freedom of media. Situation is not very good, as Pakistan is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for journalists (after Mexico, Iraq and Afghanistan) and among the worst in case of journalists’ target killing; their families hardly get justice.

Media organization declared this bill as “Black Law” and against the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 especially against article 19 (freedom of expression) and article 19-A (access to information). They also consider this bill as a violation of fundamental rights which are promised in the country’s constitution.

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Although freedom of media and press was part of the manifesto of the current PTI government , it seems that they (PTI government) are trying to curb the freedom of expression and media. Opposition parties, journalist community, civil society and other stakeholders are greatly opposing Pakistan Media Development Authority. Opposition parties are committed to give tough time to the government inside and outside the parliament to the Pakistan Media Development Authority Bill.

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Muhammad Farhan Niazi is a correspondent for Eat News in Pakistan and is an experienced senior producer with a demonstrated history of working in the media production industry. Skilled in feature and news writing, non-linear editing, radio, multimedia journalism, Online journalism, film production, and sound. Strong media and communication professional graduated from University of Peshawar.

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Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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