Tuesday Aug 24, 2021
ISLAMABAD: As part of its crackdown on freedom of expression, the government is seeking broad new powers in the garb of the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA), says Human Rights Watch (HRW).
According to a report published in The News, the proposed legislation would bolster the powers of the government to censor and restrict the media.
"The government, however, claims an ordinance setting up the PMDA would replace the 'fractured' regulatory environment and 'fragmented' media regulations currently in place. The proposed PMDA would bring all media in Pakistan – print, television, radio, films, and digital media – under one regulator, says a HRW report.
The proposed law would grant new unchecked powers to the government-controlled PMDA by setting up special “media tribunals” that will have the power to impose steep fines for media organisations and journalists who violate its code of conduct or publish content it deems to be “fake news”, said Journalists, human rights activists, and lawyers.
The HRW report stated that the proposed law would also increase government control by allowing government officials to be appointed to key positions.
"The government has kept the final draft of the PMDA law and the entire drafting process secret, raising further apprehensions among the media and civil society groups. The government has undertaken no meaningful consultative process on the law."
With journalists under relentless attack for doing their jobs, the Pakistan government needs to stop trying to control reporters and instead start protecting media freedom, said the report.
Earlier on August 20, key stakeholders of media and civil society had completely rejected the "draconian" government proposal to create a new authority to regulate the entire spectrum of the country’s media sector, as well as its attempt to "wrongly claim support for it."
The joint statement had been issued by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), Asma Jahangir's AGHS, Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan (DigiMAP), Freedom Network (FN), Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), Media Matter for Democracy (MMFD) and others oppose, all of whom rejected the PMDA and termed it "unacceptable".
"The proposed establishment of the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) by merging all existing media and sundry regulators and repealing major media-related legislation is unacceptable because this entails bulldozing existing structures and mandates for the purpose of addressing government concerns rather than reforming them," the statement had said.