Press freedom under threat in Pakistan; Journalists protest new ‘draconian’ media law

Thousands of journalists took to the streets in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, protesting against a draft bill that they say will seriously undermine press freedom

Sep 14, 2021
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Press freedom under threat in Pakistan

Thousands of journalists took to the streets in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, protesting against a draft bill that they say will seriously undermine press freedom. The bill, if passed, media houses and journalists will be slapped with heavy fines for news the authority views as fake or misleading. 

Journalists staged an overnight sitting on Sunday and Monday infront of the parliament building in Islamabad just before the start of the new session where the government intends to pass the bill. 

Under the new bill, the government has proposed a new media body, the Pakistan Media Development Authority, which will have a wide-ranging of power to punish media houses or journalists and regulate news content on all platforms, including social media platforms. 

All existing media bodies and rules are proposed to be replaced by the new bill, according to a report in Radio Mashal. For years, the government and the country’s security forces have been censuring the content of the mainstream media through different means, including threat, abduction, and legal hurdles. 

The new bill is potentially a legal cover to shield all that is currently considered as unconstitutional and illegal means. 

Calling the new regulatory framework “draconian”, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) tweeted, “HRCP joins the PFUJ and other civil society organizations in front of Parliament today in protest against the draconian PMDA.”

Pakistan ranks near the bottom of global freedom indexes.

The government pressure has increased significantly on media since Prime Minister Imran Khan took power in Pakistan, said Reporters Without Borders (RWB). The military “cannot stand independent journalism” and exerts strong pressure over the media, it added.  

The abduction of journalists has become so common in the country that the authority almost never conducts a serious probe into these incidents. Hamid Mir, one of the most prominent journalists in the country, was recently taken off air by Geo TV--allegedly upon the instructions from Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency ISI-- when Mir openly blamed the country’s military behind these incidents. 

Interestingly, despite the protests by thousands of journalists in recent days, mainstream media in the country censored the coverage of these protests--a situation which hints at the extent of the military’s control over media. 

 (SAM)