ISLAMABAD: As journalists staged a sit-in outside of the Parliament House to protest against the government’s proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA), Opposition leaders from different political parties also joined in to show solidarity and criticise the government’s proposal.
Politicians who joined the protest included senior PML-N leader and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, PPP leader Farhatullah Babar, Senator Akram Dashti and Tahir Bizenjo of the National Party, and PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb. JUI-F leaders and several members of the National Assembly from Opposition parties also joined the protest.
Addressing the journalists, Abbasi said that while journalism is becoming more and more independent across the globe, the opposite is happening in Pakistan.
“Laws regarding how to control the press are being introduced in Pakistan under the guise of the PMDA,” Abbasi said, adding that if the government had some problems with the content being aired by different channels, then merely phoning the channel concerned would have been enough instead of creating an entity like PMDA.
The former premier went on to say that in countries where the press is not free, its citizens are not free either.
“It is the constitutional right of the people of the country to express their views; we are not talking about politics here,” Abbasi said. “Was the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) not enough that we needed another media authority?”
He said that different military dictators that ruled Pakistan — from Ayub Khan to Pervez Musharraf — made efforts to suppress the press, adding that the incumbent PTI government is following the same path by trying to silence journalists.
“Today, policemen are standing with sticks in their hands to stop journalists [from protesting]” Abbasi pointed out. “An attempt is being made to bring such a law to suppress the truth.”
‘An attempt to eliminate journalists’
Akin to Abbasi, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb also addressed the protesting crowd and said that the PTI-led government’s proposed media authority law is “not only devised to suppress journalism but it is an attempt to eliminate journalists.”
“The government has made a dictatorial move and the PML-N stands in solidarity with the journalist community against it,” she said.
Opposition rejects this ‘media martial law’
On the other hand, PPP leader Shazia Marri, while addressing journalists, said that the PMDA is solely proposed to control the media.
“All Opposition parties reject the PDMA bill,” Marri maintained. “Sadly, the information minister continued to lie that the PFUJ had been supporting the bill.”
“You cannot resort to policing [freedom of speech],” she said to the government. “We reject this media martial law”.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also expressed solidarity with the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and, in a statement, said that “PMDA is a draconian law”
“The PMDA bill is PTI government’s attempt to further stifle freedom of expression in the country,” the HRCP said in a statement.
A day earlier, the PFUJ had announced that it would hold a sit-in outside the Parliament House against the proposed PMDA bill on Sunday.
In a statement, the PFUJ had appealed to the journalist community, civil society, human rights groups, trade unions and the masses to join the sit-in.
“It is time to demonstrate unity for a common cause. The proposed PMDA will not just be a body to regulate the media sector but will serve as the central censorship office of the state aimed at regulating the freedoms of expression of all citizens of Pakistan,” the statement issued by PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and General Secretary Nasir Zaidi had said.
“We are appealing to all sections of the media, civil society and concerned citizens from all walks of life to join and participate in the peaceful PFUJ dharna on the morning of September 13, 2021, outside the National Assembly in Islamabad,” they had said.
A dharna camp was established in front of the Parliament on Sunday night (September 12) and the leadership promised to remain there till the conclusion of the joint sitting of the Parliament on Monday.
“The dharna is aimed at demonstrating solidarity and pooling widespread support against the creation of the PMDA and strategising the protection of freedom of expression of citizens, defending the rights of journalists, and pre-empting the planned assault on independent media in the country,” the statement said.
The PFUJ leaders added the continuous onslaught by the government on the rights of media workers, the safety of journalists, and their economic strangulation had “reached its highest limits.”
It has left the media sector teetering on the brink of collapse, said the press release.
“The PMDA is a planned one-window operation to impose widespread censorship through a pooling of the budgets of several media regulators thereby providing massive resources to government proxies to crackdown on the media so that it becomes totally captured and too weak to provide professional coverage of upcoming elections,” the statement added.
“The proposed PMDA, therefore, is not just a media manipulation mechanism, it will also serve to undermine democracy and parliamentary system, which is why it is necessary for all journalists, workers, students, teachers, lawyers, activists and other citizens to join this dharna to foil the nefarious designs against democracy and free media in Pakistan,” the PFUJ leaders said.
The Rawalpindi Islamabad Journalists Union (RIUJ) also joined the sit-in outside the Parliament House.
The rally was led by PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar, Secretary-General Nasir Zaidi, Chairman Joint Action Committee of the RIUJ Afzal Butt, NPC President Shakeel Anjum, RIUJ President Amir Sajjad Syed and other journalists.
The Pakistan Bar Council, Supreme Court Bar Association, High Court Bar Association, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, civil society, trade unions, and student organisations also participated in the protest rally and sit-in against the imposition of curbs on media and against the proposed PMDA.