LEGAL CORRESPONDENT – MANINI KAUR
REVIEWER: Arfeen Sayyed
September 14, 2021: Hundreds of journalists demonstrated in front of Pakistan's Parliament on Monday, September 14, 2021, against a new bill that, if passed, would severely limit the country's press freedom.
On Sunday, they held a gathering in front of the National Press Club building in Islamabad, which was attended by media workers, representatives of numerous opposition parties, and civil society activists. By the evening, demonstrators had gathered in front of Parliament House to stage a sit-in, which lasted until Monday, when President Arif Alvi addressed the joint session of the two houses of Parliament to kick off the current National Assembly's fourth parliamentary year.
After skipping the session, opposition leaders joined the media protest and endorsed journalists' worries that the new law sought to stifle free expression.
For weeks, cabinet officials and government spokespeople have been promoting the concept that the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA), which will be established under the new law, will ensure prompt payment of media employees and combat the threat of false news.
“We aim to alter the culture of false news and hold those responsible who deal in it accountable,” Fawad Chaudhry, the information minister, said in an interview, adding that honest journalists should not be concerned by the new legislation.
However, media leaders claim that the proposed bill would repeal existing media laws and replace them with the PMDA, which would be given broad powers to shut down media outlets and create tribunals to punish journalists and media outlets for writing critical articles about Pakistani state officials such as military officials, judges, and government leaders.
The PMDA would also be given the authority to regulate social media and tighten state control over it, according to reports.
“Why is the government afraid to share the draft of the proposed law with media professionals if it truly wants to solve the issues of media workers?” veteran journalist Mazhar Abbas told Dunya News TV.
The Joint Action Committee agrees that the broadcasting industry requires regulation. “However, the question of what should be controlled remains.” According to the Committee, the following aspects must be regulated:
· In the allocation and licensing of broadcasting frequencies, there should be
transparency and justice.
· Unnecessary concentration of media ownership in the industry should be avoided.
· Protection of net neutrality, which calls for equal access to the dissemination of
information, views, and viewpoints on the internet.
The Pakistani Human Rights Commission has also raised worries about the new law's "draconian" regulatory structure, while several bars and legal groups have expressed support for journalists who oppose it.
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