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Why is the journalist community against the Pakistan Media Development Authority Bill?

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In the time when the complete attention of the Pakistani media should be on the fake news propaganda against Pakistan, the government has started a confrontation with the media instead of engaging with them. As a result, the journalist community has started a protest, all thanks to the government.

Fahmidah Yousfi

There has been rising tension between journalists and the government. The journalists are complaining that their rights to speak for themselves are being snatched from them through various tactics, whereas, the government doesn’t admit these claims.

In this regard, Prime Minister Imran Khan believes that any confrontation with the electronic and print media is not a policy of this government and it should be ended.

However, it is unfortunate that this doesn’t seem to be happening. On Monday, September 13, the journalist community staged a protest in front of the parliament. Opposition leaders along with the journalists’ organizations were also present and criticized the current government. Due to this protest, the government decided to bring in the Pakistan Media Development Authority Bill.

Meanwhile, on Monday, for the first time in the history of the country, the press gallery was locked and journalists were barred from entering when President Arif Alvi addressed the parliament.

Fawad Chaudhry claims that through this bill he wants to liberate the country from fake and unverified news and wants investigative journalism to flourish, instead of spreading rumors on the media.

While he also says that fake news is a universal problem even Australia and UK follow the same law.

He said that the government has asked them to give suggestions to deal with fake news. He added that after he provided the framework, it was rejected and was asked to make a draft first but the concern is what would happen to the consultation if the draft is prepared first.

He said that there is a framework of seven pages which none of the journalists have read. No draft of the Pakistan Media Development Authority Bill has come out yet but the government is once again facing severe criticism due to the points of its framework that are currently circulating.

In this regard, the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting, Senator Faisal Javed Khan has said that the standing committee on PMDA will respond when the drafts are tabled. The standing committee is just a legislative forum.

The committee can comment on legislation, so far only the concept paper has been shown, all stakeholders are being invited to the next meeting of the committee, Prime Minister Imran Khan will never impose any restrictions on the freedom of the press.

However, the journalist community does not agree with the government’s beliefs. According to journalists, Pakistan is already ranked 145th in the world as per the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index and the PMDA’s law will be used as a strong point to tarnish Pakistan’s reputation in the eyes of the world.

On the other hand, the government should also think that the acceptance of this law will only increase the propaganda from the neighborhood against Pakistan while our entire focus should be on their ongoing campaign against our country.

Remember that the prominent media organizations of Pakistan are the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), and the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) have unanimously rejected the progress of the establishment of the PMDA.

What are the contents of the Pakistan Media Development Authority Bill?

After the approval of the Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance 2021, journalists and media workers across the country will not only be deprived of the legal protections provided in the Newspaper Employees and Services Conditions Act 1974, but also their sixth, seventh, and ninth wage boards, the right to claim salary, other benefits, and arrears will also be taken away.

After the approval of the Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance 2021, the implementation tribunal for newspaper workers will be dissolved and thousands of cases of newspaper workers pending in the tribunal will be closed automatically.

Journalists and media workers in grievance councils and tribunals set up under the Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance 2021 will be able to lodge complaints in case of non-payment of salaries as per the wishes of media owners, but they will neither get job security nor they will be legally entitled to claim house rent allowance and other benefits.

After the Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance 2021, all TV and radio channels, newspapers and magazines, news agencies, online newspapers, websites, blogs, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, Netflix, Amazon Prime channels, etc. operating in Pakistan will be required to obtain a license, declaration, NOC, or registration certificate from the Pakistan Media Development Authority for a period of 5, 10 and 15 years with a fixed fee.

Moreover, the annual fee and renewal fee will have to be paid separately and a penalty must be paid for late submission of the annual fee.

Under the Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance 2021, a ‘Pakistan Media Development Authority’ will be constituted and headed by an officer of Grade 21 or 22 Information Group while the authority will have 11 members including six private and five members such as Federal Secretary Information, Federal Secretary Admission, Chairman PTA, Chairman FBR and Chairperson Competition Commission of Pakistan.

Under the Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance 2021, the Authority can license any TV channel, radio channel, newspaper, magazine, news agency, an online newspaper, website, blog, Facebook page, YouTube channel, Netflix, Amazon Prime channel, etc along with the rights of declaration, NOC, issuance of registration certificate, suspension, cancellation, closing of a program, off-air, blocking of any news.

According to the Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance 2021, a journalist in Pakistan will only be considered if he or she is affiliated with a media organization licensed, declared, NOC, or obtained a certificate of registration by the Pakistan Media Development Authority (Protection of Journalists Act)

Under the Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance 2021, to obtain the NOC, Registration Certificate of declaration for all TV and Radio Channels, Newspapers, Magazines, News Agencies, Online Newspapers, Websites, Blogs, Facebook Pages, YouTube Channels, Netflix, Amazon Prime Channels, etc. the following conditions must be met:

In news, analysis, commentary, discussions, and arguments….

  1. Ensuring the protection of autonomy, security, and integrity of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
  2. Ensuring the protection of national, cultural, social, and religious values and principles.
  3. Ensuring that all programs and advertisements do not contain violence, terrorism, racial or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy, hatred, pornography, obscenity, vulgarity, or any other aggressive content that is against the accepted standards of decency and does not encourage the above-mentioned evils.
  4. Daily transmission, broadcast, publication, programs, or news must include government-favorable content whose duration must be 5% of the total duration.
  5. Programs and advertisements must comply with the authority’s authorized regulations for which an in-house monitoring committee will be deployed that informs about the approved implementation.
  6. Ensuring that Copyright Ordinance 1962, Intellectual Property Rights Act 2012, and other rules are not breached.
  7. It is compulsory to obtain NOC from the authority for the import of any kind of equipment used for media affairs.
  8. Ensuring the non-availability of online video footage of suicide bombers, terrorists, bodies of terrorism victims, statements, declarations of militants, and other extremist actions which in any way lead to terrorist acts and the promotion of terrorism.
  9. Any anchorperson, moderator, or host will not propagate any opinion or action that is in any way against the ideology of Pakistan or based on prejudice against Pakistan’s sovereignty and security or defense.
  10. No broadcasts, distributions, or online programs that cause disturbance in law and order will be allowed.
  11. Any broadcast, distribution, or online material that would defame or ridicule the head of state, members of the armed forces, or the state legislature and judiciary would be prohibited.
  12. There will be no broadcasts, distributions, programs, or debates on matters pending under court hearing and court reporting will be published in the form of information only.
  13. Any broadcast, distribution, or online material that is known to be based on lies or baseless, malicious content along with their evidence is prohibited.
  14. Electronic or digital channels or newspapers will not be entitled to receive an official advertisement before completing its one-year non-stop operation after its regular launch.

According to Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance 2021, any licensed, NOC, Declaration, Registration Holder Institution or individual will be punished for three years imprisonment or a fine of Rs 2.5 crores. However, a second-time violation will lead to five years imprisonment or a fine of Rs 5 crore.

If TV Media, Radio Channel, Newspaper, Magazine, News Agency, Online Newspaper, Website, Blog, Facebook Page, YouTube Channel, Netflix, Amazon Prime Channel, etc. or any person working in them violates any of the above conditions when found guilty he can be sentenced to five years imprisonment or a fine of Rs 50 million or both.

The government claims that the new authority will ensure media freedom, impartiality, and protection of journalistic values.

However, the journalistic community, civil society, and the opposition strongly oppose the establishment of this authority. It seems that the government is moving towards tension with the media while maintaining the old tradition and apparently this gap is widening at the moment.

While the state of Pakistan is facing challenges on the external and internal fronts, the government’s untimely confrontation with the media is tantamount to harming the state, not just the politics. Moreover, the loopholes of existing regulatory bodies should be removed because this confrontation is not good for anyone.

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