September 13, 2021
ISLAMABAD—A two-day protest led by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) against the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) legislation ended in front of the Parliament House on Monday.
A large number of journalists, members of civil society, and politicians joined the sit-in.
Journalist leaders, including PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar, Secretary-General Nasir Zaidi, former PFUJ president Afzal Butt, and others, made speeches and vowed to continue their struggle against the draconian legislation.
Politicians who visited the protest camp included senior PML-N leader and former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Farhatullah Babar, Senator Akram Dashti and Tahir Bizenjo of the National Party, and PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb. JUI-F leaders and several members of the National Assembly from Opposition parties also joined the protest.
Abbasi said that while journalism is becoming more and more independent across the globe, the opposite was happening in Pakistan.
"Laws regarding how to control the press are being introduced in Pakistan under the guise of the PMDA," he said, adding that if the government had some problems with the content being aired by different channels, then merely phoning the channel concerned would have been enough instead of creating an entity like PMDA.
"Today, policemen are standing with sticks in their hands to stop journalists [from protesting]" Abbasi pointed out. "An attempt is being made to bring such a law to suppress the truth."
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the PTI-led government's proposed media authority law is "not only devised to suppress journalism, but it is an attempt to eliminate journalists."
"The government has made a dictatorial move, and the PML-N stands in solidarity with the journalist community against it," she said.
Similarly, PPP leader Shazia Marri said that the PMDA is solely proposed to control the media.
"All Opposition parties reject the PDMA bill," she emphasized. "Sadly, the information minister continued to lie that the PFUJ had been supporting the bill."
"You cannot resort to policing [freedom of speech]," she said. "We reject this media martial law."
The sit-in started in front of the Parliament Sunday night, and the PFUJ leadership promised to remain there till the conclusion of the Parliament's joint sitting Monday.
Later, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari addressed the protest. "I believe as far as the legitimacy of the government and media freedom is concerned, all [of us] are on the same page," he added.
The PPP chairperson said he saw the PMDA as a continuity of measures taken in the past to place curbs on the media.
"Some people don't want journalists to think freely and struggle for media freedom. We should not yield to them, and nobody will be able to infringe upon our rights," he said.
He further stated that in present times, countries had been using the media as a tool to attack their rivals, and to tackle the issue in Pakistan, media here needed to be empowered.
Bilawal said besides being "an attack on press freedom," the PMDA law was also an assault on democracy and independent judiciary and a "financial attack" on journalists.
"It is an attempt to snatch journalists' livelihood by putting such a big financial burden [on them]," he added, announcing that the PPP would join journalist protests across the country.
Bilawal said independent media was vital for societal improvement, adding that "we will resist any move to gag the media through [the PMDA] legislation."
He told the protesting journalists that he would approach all relevant forums to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan's government.
He pointed out that journalists in the country bravely fought against and defeated former President Pervez Musharraf in the past. They would also put up a fight against the incumbent government and its decisions challenging media freedom.
Photo courtesy: HRCP
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