PMDA an Unjust Monopoly – Is this PM Khan’s Agenda?

With the formation of PMDA, shady characters in politics like Fawad Chaudhry are in direct contravention of PM Imran Khan's promises/vision of guaranteeing constitutional rights of press freedom and expanding freedom of expression before he took oath of office.

Pakistan has seen a rapid decline in media freedom over the last two years which is regarded as one of the darkest periods for the national media in decades by many Pakistani media stakeholders and senior journalists.

Before holding the public office and even after coming into power, Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan accused previous governments of using media as a tool to hide their corruption. He claimed that journalists and anchorpersons are fed by the government to run “planted” shows in the past.

Furthermore, PM Imran Khan said that corrupt governments will always want to restrict free, independent, and responsible media and hinder the free flow of information in the country. However, media reports have revealed that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government itself is often criticized for trying to silence the media.

According to the 2019 Amnesty International report, PTI government authorities had intensified their crackdown on the right to freedom of expression.

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On the other hand, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain has recently announced the formation of the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) in a bid to expand the boundaries of regulation for digital media and merge multiple media regulatory bodies in the country.

PMDA an Unjust Monopoly - Is this PM Khan's Agenda? | Baaghi TV
IMAGE CREDIT: PTI chairman Imran Khan addresses a gathering in Faisalabad. PHOTO: ONLINE.

PMDA has been formed as a regulatory body that will replace all the laws regulating media in Pakistan. Currently, seven laws are regulating media in the country. Under which the press is dealt with by the Press Council, electronic media is managed by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and social media is dealt with by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA).

Moreover, the newspaper registrations are managed by the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) while Implementation Tribunal for Newspapers Employees (ITNE) deals with labour registrations. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry reiterated that all laws were being abrogated and replaced with one authority – the PMDA. This means that it will be solely responsible for the regulation of print, broadcast, and digital media in Pakistan.

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Journalists’ Organisations Reject the Proposed Media Ordinance

Journalists’ organizations have expressed concerns over the new media law in Pakistan, terming it as a violation of freedom of expression. On the contrary, the PTI government insists that the bill is being introduced to regulate the media and its welfare.

The coalition which includes the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE), the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND), the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) have strongly opposed the making of a new body saying it would go against the democratic norms that Pakistan should uphold as a democracy.

Furthermore, the under the proposed draft of the authority, tribunals led by chairpersons of high court-judge level will have the authority/power to give punishments of up to PKR 250 million in fines and three years in jail to content and program producers for violating the new provisions.

PMDA an Unjust Monopoly - Is this PM Khan's Agenda? | Baaghi TV
IMAGE CREDIT: propakistani.pk/
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According to the proposal, no other body except the Supreme Court of Pakistan will have the authority to question the legitimacy of “anything done or any decision taken under the [PMDA] ordinance”. PMDA will have the power to impose sanctions on media in case of violations if it is set up.

Moreover, the government-controlled authority will have greater control over the content published, broadcasted, and shared on social/digital media. Ironically, this will be clearly against the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Journalists, human rights, and lawyers’ organizations have vehemently opposed the government’s proposal of forming a media regulatory authority and termed the law behind it a draconian one.

Shady characters in politics and their policies like PMDA are in direct contravention of PM Imran Khan’s promises of guaranteeing constitutional rights of press freedom and expanding freedom of expression before he took an oath of office.

Read also: Government to Form a Media Regulatory Authority: Fawad Chaudhry

The government of Pakistan needs to ensure media freedom, both offline and online, by making laws in line with international law. Such laws will ensure that journalists work freely, without the fear of penalty for expressing critical opinions or covering sensitive topics.

What is Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA)?

The Government of Pakistan has recently initiated legislation on the establishment of PMDA by abolishing all previous media regulatory bodies and is in consultation with stakeholders in this regard.

Contrary to the government’s consultative efforts, journalists’ organizations and opposition parties have vehemently rejected the establishment of a media regulatory authority. Including human rights’, lawyers’ organizations, and the opposition, they say that country already has laws and institutions in place to regulate the media.

PMDA an Unjust Monopoly - Is this PM Khan's Agenda? | Baaghi TV
IMAGE CREDIT: Imran Khan was elected prime minister of Pakistan in 2018. Image taken from icij.org

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