PTI-era media regulatory body scrapped
ISLAMABAD: In her first policy statement, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb on Tuesday announced the long-demanded scrapping of the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) in “whatever shape or form it was”, vowed that no black law would be enacted that restricted freedom of expression, and criticised the social media drives against journalists and incitement to violence against them.
Last year, journalists across the country had held protests against what they called the previous government’s ill-conceived proposal to set up through an ordinance the PMDA as an umbrella body to regulate all media — print, television, radio, films, social media and digital.
In her first press conference after taking oath here on Tuesday, the newly-inducted minister stated: “I announce that the PMDA is being disbanded in whatever shape or form it was, and whosoever was working on it in the Ministry of Information has been asked to stop.”
Ms Aurangzeb termed the PMDA a “black law” and said no such law would be enacted or worked upon that would restrict the people’s constitutional right to freedom of expression. “There is no need for another authority as we already have a functioning Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra),” she stressed.
She highlighted that freedom of expression was beneficial for a society, and the accountability of the government was essential to ensure good governance. She vowed the new government would undertake massive reforms in the media sector with the consultation of the stakeholders.
She also announced that a joint action committee comprising all stakeholders, including media organisations, would meet to discuss the issues faced by the media and work out a consultative solution regarding all laws concerning the industry. The issues to be discussed also included amendments to the controversial Peca ordinance.
“The previous government tried to bring another black law in the form of an amendment to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance 2022 that was struck down by the Islamabad High Court,” she mentioned, adding it was not over yet, as the newly appointed Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar has decided to review the 2016 law in consultation with all stakeholders, including the parts where the right to freedom of expression was “misconstrued” and gaps existed. She added the issue of fake news also needed to be tackled.
Additionally, the information minister said, the Journalist Safety and Protection Act would be made implementable and a commission established soon. She also commended media houses, beat reporters and anchors for standing united over the past four years in the struggle against gag orders and choking of the freedom of expression and the press by the previous government.
She also pointed out how media workers had been laid off during the PTI government, the extensive censorship and attacks on journalists, including taking programmes and anchors off air, claiming the new government would do its best to undo the damage. She added the PML-N-led coalition government believed in constructive criticism.
Ms Aurangzeb also criticised the malicious campaigns against journalists on social media and incitement to violence against them and their houses, saying the state would take strict action against anyone who attempted to besiege the journalists’ homes. “It has been decided that action will be taken by the Federal Investigation Agency and police against such elements,” the minister stressed.
Welcoming criticism of the media towards the government, she said: “Criticise us, we will accept it wholeheartedly if it can improve the lives of Pakistanis and the performance of the government.”
Meanwhile, the minister also announced the future course of action of the new government, saying Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will address the nation soon to take people into confidence over the measures to address economic woes the new government has inherited from its predecessors, and lay out his short-, medium- and long-term plans.
“The primary focus will be reduction of inflation and unemployment in the country,” she said, claiming the country was facing a power crisis due to the wrong policies of the previous PTI-led government. Ms Aurangzeb said 27 power plants were shut at the moment, some due to maintenance while others due to shortage of fuel.
She also insisted that the coalition government did not believe in political victimisation and witch-hunting of PTI office-bearers, but those who usurped the rights of the people will have to face the wrath of the law.
To a question about the rift between the president and the new government, the PML-N leader said Dr Arif Alvi was not the head of the PTI, but the whole country, and the Punjab governor was refusing to administer oath to an elected chief minister of a province.
“These and other individuals must respect their oath, or resign if they are only looking to serve their party interests,” she remarked.