PPP rejects the “draconian” PMDA Ordinance 2021, says Sherry Rehman

Islamabad: Condemning “the draconian” Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance 2021, PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate, Senator Sherry Rehman said the disastrous effect that this ordinance will have on media and freedom of expression is unacceptable. First it was PEMRA and now this ordinance, actions of intolerance towards independent journalism are constantly increasing under the PTI led government.

She said Pakistan ranks 145 out of 180 countries on media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2021 World Press Freedom Index, and instead of taking action to fix this, the government is trying to push through the PMDA Ordinance 2021, which will act as a tool for institutionalising censorship. The civil society and media rights groups have termed the ordinance as ‘media martial law’. Through this media outlets will either become state mouthpieces or go under”.

“The PMDA will regulate films, electronic, print, and digital media, including Web TV, OTT, and news websites. Through this ordinance, there are plans to centralise media oversight under one draconian authority, annual NOCs are to remain operational, and suspension/ penalties are on their way. There will be no onus on the Government to provide warning or rationales for clampdowns,” she added.

Rehman said, “A report launched by the Freedom Network states that Islamabad is the most dangerous and riskiest region for journalists. It is disturbing to hear that popular anchors are regularly being taken off air. Stifling voices of dissent will only harm democracy. What happened to people’s freedom of expression and right to information? The PTI led government is afraid of criticism and through such anti-media policies just wants to suppress the media in the country”.

“The fact that Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) have rejected the proposed PMDA Ordinance 2021 goes out to show that any such censorship attempt on the mainstream media will not be accepted. The incumbent government is obsessed with suppressing the media and voices of descent. How can a democracy flourish when freedom of press is not ensured?” she questioned.

Rehman said, “Access to information is a basic right and depriving people of this just reflects the draconian mindset of this government. Despite its ratification, Pakistan is failing to comply with commitments and respect for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Constitutional rights of people must be protected”.

“Now the EU is also concerned over the lack of freedom of the press and violence against journalists in Pakistan. From May 2020 to April 2021, at least 148 cases of attacks and violations against media professionals have been reported. If this is not the failure of this government, then what is it?” she questioned.

Rehman said, “Centralising media oversight under one draconian authority though this ordinance, reeks of just that. On one hand the cabinet approves a journalists’ protection bill and on the other they are trying to bulldoze this ordinance, or was the bill passed just to retain the GSP-Plus trading status with the EU?”

“Media and journalism are threatened under this government whereas it is in fact the government’s responsibility to provide protection to the media. We will not let them formalise censorship through this ordinance,” concluded Vice President PPPP Senator Sherry Rehman.