The recent decision by the government to set up a new media authority, the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA), via an ordinance is highly problematic. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) have referred to this as an attempt to impose ‘media martial law.’ In their joint statement, PFUJ, PBC, and HRCP point out, “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.”
Further, “This malafide step is another U-turn from the promises made by the prime minister to expand freedom of expression before he took oath of office. This ordinance will further tighten the grip of the government on all forms of media, including print, electronic, and social media, and drama and films. The proposed ordinance is nothing less than imposing “media martial law.
The government has already imposed a major censorship regime on the mainstream media and it now wants to extend that to TV, radio and print to online journalism.”
This new ordinance would “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 also annual no-objection certificates to remain operational. This is censorship by another name as these not only raise entry barriers for new media players but also keep older and more experienced media players hostage to the whims of bureaucrats, authoritarian politicians and behind-the-scenes powers, pulling strings to make the media focused only on survival, not professionalism.”
Finally, “The government and ruling party will itself become the biggest victim of the draconian law by crushing the 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. The proposed heavy fines and penalties will not be acceptable to the PFUJ or any journalist in the country. This is aimed at undermining the freedoms enshrined in the constitutional guarantees under Articles 19 and 19-A. The proposed law is ultra vires of the constitution and must be immediately withdrawn, failing which countrywide protests will be launched by journalists and concerned citizens.”