September 13, 2021, Islamabad — Journalists in Pakistan are protesting against the PTI government’s move to form an all-powerful single authority to regulate the print, electronic and digital media – the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) through an Ordinance.
Zulm ke yeh zaabte, hum nahi maante [These are oppressive tactics, and we don’t accept them], they chanted in unison and criticised the formation of the body claiming that it bolster the government powers to censor and restrict the media and, ultimately, bludgeon it into silence.
The protest, headed by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), has been staged outside Parliament House in the capital city Islamabad and has garnered the support of the Supreme Court Bar Association, and opposition parties such as the PML-N, PPP, National Party, JUI-F among others.
A protest camp was set up on Sunday, September 12; carpets were laid on the grass near a footpath, tents were installed and a pickup truck with loud speakers was parked near it. Demonstrators stayed the night and continued their protest the next day on September 13 when they were joined by other journalists, members of the civil society, politicians and lawyers.
The government is scared which is why it hasn’t shared the draft of the ordinance with anyone, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said while addressing the protest participants on Monday. “Why are they hiding the draft? Why hasn’t it been presented in committees? Laws are made after taking everyone on board.” She claimed that the PTI is taking the country to the Dark Ages. We reject this “black law”, she added as charged protesters chimed in, “kala kanoon, na manzoor na manzoor” (this black law is unacceptable).
Former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani joined the protest and shared that this is not the first time PPP leaders are sitting on the footpath. Journalists have rights and their freedom of expression should not be curbed. He claimed that the government is being run by “croony capitalists” who have given unfair advantages to foreign companies and taken away the jobs of the working class.
PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Marriyum Aurangzeb along with PPP’s Farhatullah Babar had visited the camp on Sunday.
The ordinance was first proposed in May 2021 and it was termed “draconian” by the PFUJ, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Pakistan Bar Council (PBC). In a joint statement, they said that it could have “devastating impact on the constitutional principles and guarantees for freedom of expression and the right to information”.
On August 16, Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry defended PMDA and said that the regulatory body will counter “fake news” and monitor reporting on sectarian and hate crimes. Since the press conference, media bodies such as the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, Pakistan Broadcasters Association, and All Pakistan Newspaper Society and prominent journalists and lawyers have frequently criticised the formation of the authority.
The new authority would replace the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which the Human Rights Watch describes as the “enforcer of the government’s intensifying campaign of repression of the media”.