‘Govt using touts to advance PMDA’

Journalist claims government has pitted unknown ‘media organizations’ against hardworking media workers

The government was using ‘touts’ to legitimize the formation of the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) to counter fake news, renowned journalist Asma Shirazi has claimed.

Shirazi appeared at an anti-PMDA outside Parliament House on Sunday and said that the government pitted unknown ‘media organizations’ against hardworking journalists in the industry.

The journalist lambasted Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI’s) government and said that a record high number of journalists were rendered unemployed under the regime. She added that measures like the PMDA created a media environment that was worse than what it would be under martial law.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) had called upon the media industry and other civil society members to rally together against the PMDA. Protesters responded to the call and came out with banners and chanted slogans against what they deemed to be the government’s agenda to curtail media freedoms.

Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry also responded to the protests and said that some media owners claimed ‘false news’ as their right. He wondered why people resisted a law that would secure workers’ rights and combat fake news.

The PMDA was proposed by the government in June as a monolithic media regulatory authority that would control print, broadcast, and digital media. An unpopular measure under the PMDA would enforce fines up to Rs250 million on TV channels and digital media for ‘violations’. Under the new ordinance, the body would also be solely responsible for granting No Objection Certificates (NOCs) to produce new content across digital, print and broadcast platforms.

The PMDA has been scrutinized intensely by the opposition government and media industry alike. Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman (PPP) termed the PMDA a ‘black law’. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Aurangzeb was also displeased by the government’s heavy security apparatus that was deployed to monitor ‘peaceful’ protesters on Sunday.

Controversy has also surrounded the PMDA since its introduction as the PFUJ in August berated Hussain for conducting a meeting with a fake body of journalists to gain endorsement for the law. Earlier this month, Rawalpindi Islamabad Union of Journalist’s (RIUJ) Press Freedom Action Committee chief Afzal Butt said that Fawad Chaudhry twisted Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s comments on ‘fake news’ to justify the PMDA. The COAS said on Defence Day that misinformation was a ‘threat to national security’ and Butt opined that the PTI minister leveraged that statement to advance the PMDA.

The Senate Standing Committee on Information Chairman Faisal Javed also said on Wednesday that the PMDA would be rejected if the government was not able to prove its necessity to the panel.