The Pakistani government recently proposed the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance 2021 that allows formation of a media regulatory body for all mediums – print, broadcast, and digital. The ordinance calls for repealing all existing media legislatures and merging them under one authority, which proposes nominating a bureaucrat to head the PMDA.
The proposed law has come under criticism by the media fraternity for attempting to centralise media regulation. The ordinance is introduced at a time when Pakistan has already been cracking the whip on journalists and vloggers who speak against the Imran Khan-led government and the military.
Watch: #Explained – Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance 2021
What is the PMDA and what are its functions?
The PMDA ordinance 2021 is a legislation that “aims to create an independent, efficient, effective, and transparent institution to regulate all forms of media and bring them under a single and converged regulator and statutory authority.” In addition to news media, the authority is also set to monitor films and over-the-top content platforms as well.
The ordinance proposes to repeal all current media-related laws, including the Press Council Ordinance, 2002, the Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance, 2002, the Newspaper Employees, (Conditions of Service Act), 1973, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance, 2002, as amended by the Pemra Amendment Act, 2007, and the Motion Pictures Ordinance, 1979.
The PDMA will primarily grant and renew licenses or registration certificates for electronic, print, digital media services and film services. Furthermore, it will investigate complaints and claims made “against licensees arising out of alleged contraventions of the provisions of the Ordinance.”
The authority will also devise a Code of Conduct for programmes and advertisements for compliance. As per the draft, the government could issue directives to the authority on matters of policy and such directives will be binding on the authority.
Why is the ordinance being opposed?
Media unions have pointed out certain high-handed aspects of the proposed ordinance called it a “martian law.” It has also been agreed among media practitioners that the ordinance ignores the fact that print, digital and electronic media are separate entities each with their own defined features and respective regulatory laws.
The PMDA will have the power, without providing a show cause notice, to prohibit any person working in any medium from making available anything online that “is known to be false or baseless” or “incites violence or hatred or any action prejudicial to maintaining law and order.”
The draft mentions that the authority may also call for any information, audited financial statements, or any other relevant documents and can, without notice, “by reason of necessity in the public interest” seize the equipment of a media station or seal its premises.
The draft also says that any licensee who violates any provision of the ordinance “shall be guilty of offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine which may extend up to twenty-five million rupees or with both.”
The fines, raids, and the arbitrary power to revoke licenses of media houses are among the significant concerns observed by the media fraternity.
Who has raised concerns about the ordinance?
Pakistan’s media organisations – including editors, broadcasters, news directors – have rejected the proposed PMDA ordinance, calling it an “unconstitutional and draconian law.” All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) rejected the law and said that the it was intended to obstruct media freedom and take control of the media.
“The proposed law is draconian in scope and devastating in its impact on the constitutional principles and guarantees for freedom of expression, media freedoms, and the right to information as well as the profession of journalism,” said PFUJ, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) said in a joint statement.
The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of mediapersons, said to Prime Minister Imran Khan in an open letter, “Your excellency, we urge you to reconsider the decision of the government to promulgate the PMDA ordinance and withdraw it immediately, as it will have a devastating impact on a free media in a democracy that Pakistan promises to be.”
How has the Pakistani government responded to criticism against the PMDA ordinance 2021?
Following outcry over the proposed ordinance from journalists, activists, and the opposition, the federal government constituted a committee to ‘liaise’ the matters of the PDMA with stakeholders.
In a notification issued on June 2, the ministry said State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib would head the committee that would comprise three other members – Press Information Department Director General (DG) Sohail Ali Khan, Internal Publicity DG Manzoor Ali Memon and Directorate of Electronic Media & Publications (DEMP) Deputy Director Mahar un Nisa.
“The competent authority has approved the constitution of a committee to liaise and discuss Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) with stakeholders,” said the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.