The proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority bill would give authority to shut down media outlets and establish tribunals to penalise journalists and media houses for writing against top military officials, judges and government leaders, fear media leaders
Hundreds of journalists in Pakistan on Monday, September 14, 2021, protested in front of the Parliament against a proposed law that they said if enacted would drastically curtail press freedom in the country.
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They started the protest on Sunday by holding a rally in front of the National Press Club building in Islamabad, which was attended by media workers, members of several opposition parties and civil society activists. By the night, the protestors reached in front of the Parliament House to hold a sit-in, which continued till Monday when President Arif Alvi addressed the joint sitting of the two chambers of the Parliament to launch the fourth parliamentary year of the current National Assembly.
Opposition leaders after boycotting the session also joined the media protest and in their speeches, they supported the concerns of journalists that the new law aimed to gag free media.
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President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shehbaz Sharif in his address on the occasion said that his party would stand by the journalists in foiling the bid by the government to bring new regulations.
“We will oppose the new law in the Parliament and make sure that it is defeated and the press freedom is not curtailed,” he said.
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‘Curbing fake news’
Cabinet ministers and government spokesmen have been pedalling for weeks to sell the idea that the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) being created through the new law would ensure timely payments to media workers and curb the menace of fake news.
“We want to change the culture of fake news and make those people accountable who deal in such news,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in an interview, adding that honest journalists should not worry.
But media leaders said that the proposed bill would repeal existing media laws by replacing them with the PMDA, having authority to shut down media outlets and establish tribunals to penalise journalists and media houses for writing against top military officials, judges and government leaders.
The PMDA reportedly would also be empowered to regulate social media and tighten official control over it.
“If the government really wants to address the problems of media workers, then why is it shy of sharing the draft of the proposed law with media professionals,” senior journalist Mazhar Abbas told Dunya News TV.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has also expressed concerns over what it called a “draconian” regulatory framework, while various bars or associations of lawyers have expressed support for journalists opposing the new law.