The PDMA is likely to make the media a propaganda branch of the government, CPJ warns Imran Khan
Concerned over the initiative of establishing the Pakistan Media Development Authority, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has asked Prime Minister Imran Khan to drop the plan for the sake of democracy.
According to a recent “talking points” document provided by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to the CPJ, the PDMA would replace all other regulatory bodies with a single, centralized umbrella organization under a commission headed by a civil servant.
“We share the concerns that have been expressed nearly unanimously by media and human rights organizations in Pakistan, including the statement issued collectively by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and the Pakistan Bar Council,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in an emailed letter to Imran Khan on Thursday.
The CPJ is a New York-based independent non-governmental organization that champions press freedom around the world.
The letter states that the document outlines worthy goals, such as reducing red tape and the costs of regulation; but it remains unclear why a single authority would help achieve these goals.
“… our overriding concern is the proposed body’s potential impact on the freedom of the press, as guaranteed by Article 19 in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and Amendment 18, which guarantees the right to information.”
Butler highlights that the strength of Pakistan’s media lies in its independence and diversity.
But putting all the country’s media — including the previously unregulated newspaper industry — under a single government-led authority risks making the media a “propaganda branch of the government, even if that is not your government’s intention.”
The CPJ thinks that imposition of penalties by a media complaints council, to be adjudicated only by specialized media tribunals outside of Pakistan’s formal judicial system, would threaten to create an “atmosphere of fear that would directly undermine freedom of expression.
“These potential impacts represent direct threats to the future of Pakistan’s democracy.”
Expressing concerns that the talking points document makes no mention of the role that freedom of the press plays in Pakistan’s democratic system, the CPJ said: “But the media is not just an industry for economic development, like textiles or electronics.
“Instead, a free media plays an absolutely critical role in providing information to Pakistan’s citizens and serving as a watchdog for both the government and the private sector. If anything, Pakistan’s media needs less regulation and interference than it is experiencing today, not more in the form of a centralized authority.”
Deamanding that the plan be scrapped, the CPJ asked Prime Minister Imran Khan to work closely with media organizations and press freedom advocates to “pursue justice in the many cases of attacks on journalists where there has so far been nearly total impunity, which remains the greatest obstacle to freedom of the press in Pakistan.”