The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on Monday expressed concern over the government’s plan to establish the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) through an ordinance and vowed to resist it with full force, terming it an attempt to gag the media in the country.In a statement, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb declared the government’s move to establish the PMDA through an ordinance an “unconstitutional step” and in conflict with Article 19 of the Constitution which guaranteed freedom of expression and a free media in the country.
She said that instead of bringing legislation to protect the journalists and to ensure media freedom, the government was bent upon bringing a “black law” in order to put more curbs on freedom of expression.
PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman said in a statement that the disastrous effect that this ordinance would have on media and freedom of expression was “unacceptable”.
She alleged that actions of intolerance towards independent journalism were constantly increasing under the present government. She said Pakistan ranked 145 out of 180 countries on media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders 2021 World Press Freedom Index, and instead of taking action to fix this, the government was trying to push through the PMDA Ordinance which would act as a tool for institutionalising censorship.
“The civil society and media rights groups have termed the ordinance media martial law. Through this media outlets will either become state mouthpieces or go under,” she said.
The PPP senator said the PMDA would regulate films, electronic, print and digital media, including Web TV and news websites. Through this ordinance, she alleged, there were plans to centralise media oversight under one draconian authority, annual NOCs were to remain operational, and suspension/penalties were on their way.“There will be no onus on the government to provide warning or rationales for clampdowns,” she added.
Ms Rehman said a report launched by the Freedom Network stated that Islamabad was the most dangerous and riskiest region for journalists. She said it was disturbing to hear that popular anchors were regularly being taken off air.
“Stifling voices of dissent will only harm democracy. The PTI-led government is afraid of criticism and through such anti-media policies just wants to suppress the media in the country,” she alleged.
“The fact that Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Pakistan Bar Council have already rejected the proposed PMDA Ordinance 2021 goes out to show that any such censorship attempt on the mainstream media will not be accepted,” she said.