Salary bonuses lured workers to anti-PMDA protests: Fawad Chaudhry

*The proposed media law is unpopular amongst journalists, lawmakers for ‘draconian’, ‘undemocratic’ measures*

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Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has said that some media owners enticed employees with salary bonuses so that they would partake in demonstrations against the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) on Sunday.

In a tweet, Hussain wondered why some media practitioners were protesting the PMDA, which according to him was going to protect workers’ rights and stop dissemination of fake news. He added that some protesters insisted they had the right to spread ‘false news’.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) had called upon the media industry and other civil society members to rally together against the PMDA on Saturday. 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.

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 not pleased 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 Husain 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 Husain leveraged that statement to advance the PMDA.

Senate Standing Committee on Information Chairman Senator 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.