June 11, 2021
BANGKOK—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged the Pakistani government to drop plans for establishing a new media regulatory authority.
In a letter to Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, the CPJ acknowledged that the strength of Pakistani media lies in its independence and diversity.
"We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental organization that champions press freedom around the world, write to urge you to halt your government’s efforts to establish the Pakistan Media Development Authority," Steven Butler, Asia Program Coordinator CPJ wrote.
According to a recent “talking points” document provided to CPJ by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the PDMA would replace all other regulatory bodies with a single, centralized umbrella organization under a commission headed by a civil servant.
"While the document outlines worthy goals, such as reducing red tape and the costs of regulation, it remains unclear why a single authority would help achieve these goals," it questioned.
According to the letter, overriding concern by the CPJ is the proposed body’s potential impact on the freedom of the press, as guaranteed by Article 19 in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and Amendment 18, which guarantees the right to information.
"Putting all the country’s media—including the previously unregulated newspaper industry—under a single government-led authority risks making the media into a propaganda branch of the government, even if that is not your government’s intention," the CPJ stated, adding that "The imposition of penalties by a media complaints council, to be adjudicated only by specialized media tribunals outside of Pakistan’s formal judicial system, would threaten to create an atmosphere of fear that would directly undermine freedom of expression."
The CPJ in its letter to PM Imran Khan also highlighted that such potential impacts represent direct threats to the future of Pakistan’s democracy. "The talking points document makes no mention of the role that freedom of the press plays in Pakistan’s democratic system," it stated, emphasizing that the media is not just an industry for economic development, like textiles or electronics. "Instead, a free media plays an absolutely critical role in providing information to Pakistan’s citizens and serving as a watchdog for both the government and the private sector," the CPJ urged.
"We share the concerns that have been expressed nearly unanimously by media and human rights organizations in Pakistan, including the statement issued collectively by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and the Pakistan Bar Council. If anything, Pakistan’s media needs less regulation and interference than it is experiencing today, not more in the form of a centralized authority," it further said.
"Rather than creating a new regulatory system, we ask your government to work closely with media organizations and press freedom advocates to pursue justice in the many cases of attacks on journalists where there has so far been nearly total impunity, which remains the greatest obstacle to freedom of the press in Pakistan," the CPJ letter concluded.
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