New media regulator

The government has decided to repeal all existing media regulations and set up a new body – Pakistan Media Development (PDMA) – to regulate and monitor mainstream and social media. However, the move has been rejected by media organizations as yet another attempt to control media and stifle freedom of speech.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the proposed authority was the need of the hour as there were loopholes in the existing laws and structures. He said nowadays TV, radio and newspapers have converged on mobile phones and they need a joint regulatory authority.  The purposed law aims to repeal several important legislation passed after years of hectic efforts including the PEMRA Ordinance.

All media organizations have vehemently rejected the proposed authority and termed the proposed law as draconian. A joint statement was issued criticizing the law as a step towards imposing direct state control over all segments of society through the creation of a single centralized body. This is aimed at subjugating press freedom ignoring the fact that print, electronic and social media are separate entities.

The main aim of the regulation certainly is to control digital and social media. Under the ordinance, print and digital media outlets will also need a license to establish and operate in the country. This is being seen as problematic as it would stifle dissent and freedom of expression. The law also envisages a media tribunal that would be able to sentence journalists up to three in prions and impose hefty fines.

Pakistan is ranked as one of the lowest countries with regard to freedom of speech and expression. Any move to restrict media will send a negative message and has no place in a democratic society. The legislation will be brought to parliament where it will be vehemently opposed. The government is also considering lodging treason cases against citizens who participated in an anti-state social media campaign.

It is a sign of authoritarian governments to restrict media and control narratives. The proposed body is part of decades-long efforts to control the media. The government wants to take all stakeholders on board before enacting the legislation. It should also ensure no laws are passed which are detrimental to democratic norms and constitutional rights.

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