Wan-Ifra, the International Publishers Association (IPA), and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) call on Pakistani authorities to retract plans to establish the ‘Pakistan Media Development Authority’ (PMDA) that risks placing strict state control over all media.
Under the pretence of ‘simplifying procedures and fighting disinformation,’ the proposed changes to current frameworks aim to centralize all regulations pertaining to any media under a single authority.
The PMDA would replace existing media regulatory bodies and oversee ‘films, electronic, print, and digital media’ across every domain, from registrations to wages, licensing to the allocation of government advertising, and civil and criminal complaints procedures.
Serious concerns have also been raised regarding the proposed governance of the new PMDA, notably a perceived lack of independence from the government. Half of the PMDA board’s eight members, including the chairman, will be appointed by the state.
Wan-Ifra, IPA and IFJ to shortlist members of Media Tribunals
Wan-Ifra, IPA, and IFJ are particularly alarmed by a provision that allows the new authority the power to shortlist members of Media Tribunals, vested with the power to hand down punishments of up to three years in jail and fines of up to 25 million Pakistani rupees (approximately US$150,000). Decisions made by the Media Tribunals can only be appealed before the Supreme Court.
In addition, the three organizations express strong reservations about the secrecy behind the drafting of the new PDMA law, with the bill having only recently been shared by the government and receiving no input from media or civil society stakeholders.
While welcoming the establishment in mid-September of a committee that will allow media organizations to consult with the Federal Information Minister on the proposals for the PDMA, a first meeting has yet to be held or even called.
“We urge the Pakistan government to actively collaborate with representatives of the media on any such proposed law, particularly given its wide-ranging authority and the high potential for the infringement of press freedom,” said Wan-Ifra chief executive officer, Vincent Peyrègne.
“Declarations from the government that explain the new law simply as a strategy to curb disinformation only confirm suspicions that it is instead a set of broad regulations designed to undermine critical speech and unduly control the media.”
José Borghino, secretary-general of the International Publishers Association, said, “The International Publishers Association stands alongside news publishers and journalists in calling for the Pakistani authorities to withdraw their plans for the Pakistan Media Development Authority. The potential impact on freedom of expression and the freedom to publish is clear, and it is alarming to see the current health crisis being used as cover to stifle independent media.”
IFJ general secretary Anthony Bellanger said, “The PMDA threatens to curtail media freedom in Pakistan further. The IFJ strongly urges Pakistan’s government to listen to the industry and take a step back, consult and engage with the media on much-needed reforms that will support and enable a sustainable, strong and independent media into the future.”