In an open letter, the IPI Global Network has urged Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to withdraw a sweeping planned new media regulation, called the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance 2021, that would severely undermine press freedom in the country.
Underscoring the importance of press freedom in Pakistan, IPI called on the prime minister not to implement the ordinance. “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”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi wrote.
Journalists and media organizations in Pakistan have vehemently criticized the government’s plans to repeal all existing media laws and replace them with the ordinance, which would create a media regulatory body, the PMDA, that lacks safeguards for independence. While the PMDA will have authority to shut down media organizations, the ordinance also provides for establishment of media tribunals with the power to impose punishments of up to three years’ imprisonment and a financial penalty on content producers for violating provisions in the ordinance.
Read the full text of the letter:
His Excellency Imran Khan
Honourable Prime Minister
Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Islamabad 4 June 2021
Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance 2021
The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom in over 100 countries, is extremely concerned over the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PDMA) Ordinance 2021 that your government has proposed, as we fear that implementation of this Ordinance will drastically curtail press freedom in the country.
While your government’s decision to appoint a committee to discuss the Ordinance with stakeholders is a positive move, we believe that the Ordinance itself should be withdrawn immediately, as there are sufficient mechanisms and processes available in the country to regulate the media and the PDMA will have a negative impact on the freedom of a vibrant and responsible media in Pakistan.
In our view the proposal 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 Services Acts) 1973, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 as amended by PEMRA Amendment Act 2007, and The Motion Pictures Ordinance 1979 and replace it with an umbrella Authority to regulate the media will go against the democratic norms that Pakistan should uphold as a democracy.
Pakistan has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights therefore it should honour its commitment by allowing the media to function without interference. We are concerned that the creation of a regulatory body that does not contain sufficient guarantees for independence serious risks undermining press freedom. Appointing a bureaucrat as head of the PMDA would compromise its independence, which is an essential element of any regulatory system. It is also contrary to recommendations made by Special Rapporteurs with a mandate for the protection of freedom of expression or freedom of the media, who have said that:
- The States should ensure that regulatory bodies for the media are independent, operate transparently and are accountable to the public, and respect the principle of limited scope of regulation, and provide appropriate oversight of private actors.
- Urge the development of an independent and multi-stakeholder oversight, transparency and accountability mechanisms to address private content rules that may be inconsistent with international human rights and interfere with individuals’ right to enjoy freedom of expression.
It is also disturbing to note that PMDA will be empowered to shut down operations of a media group, seal the premises of a media outlet and seize equipment of media organizations without giving notice and, even more concerningly, without judicial oversight. Such a draconian provision will force journalists and media organizations to resort to self-censorship.
Furthermore, the proposal to set up media tribunals with the power to impose punishments of up to three years imprisonment and a financial penalty of Rs 25 million to content producers for violating the provisions in the proposed Ordinance is a clear attempt to force the media to toe the government’s diktats. We believe that creation of a parallel judicial system to deal with the media will be superfluous and unwarranted, as Pakistan has a functioning judicial system.
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.