Conspiracies are continuously being hatched to harm prestigious national institutions such as the media, the judiciary, the Election Commission of Pakistan and the parliament, said Sindh Information Minister Saeed Ghani on Friday as he moved a resolution in the Sindh Assembly to reject the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) bill proposed by the Centre.
Shunning the controversial legislation pushed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government in the Centre, all lawmakers barring those belonging to the PTI supported the resolution.
Terming it anti-press and in violation of free media, Ghani demanded the Centre withdraw the proposed bill. "The bill aims at restructuring free media and [curbing] dissent in the name of [a] development authority."
PTI allies in the coalition government the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P)and Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), also voted in favour of the resolution, which was adopted by the house, and declared it a move to control digital and print media.
"There is a long list of journalists who are being kidnapped, tortured or fired from service either on account of their criticism of the government or their acts to uncover conspiracies against democracy or if they freely express their opinion under freedom of speech," said Ghani.
Speaking on a severe crisis faced by the media industry, the minister said there were a number of journalists who have been rendered jobless as their employers were under pressure to dismiss outspoken media persons. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker added that media houses and their employers were threatened by closures of their organisations. Several renowned anchorpersons can no longer appear on television screens because of this, said Ghani.
The present federal government has also made attempts to unduly convene joint sittings of the parliament to get such controversial laws passed, he added. The provincial information minister said it was a first in the country's history that the press gallery of the National Assembly was closed as even past dictatorial regimes had not done this. Dubbing it "media destruction" not development authority, Ghani called the proposed bill an act against the spirit of the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
"The print media industry is under the provincial domain after passage of the 18th Amendment. The federal government lacks the constitutional power to establish a single regulatory and control authority to manage electronic media, social and print media at the same time."
Earlier, journalists and media personnel covering the Sindh Assembly session held placards and shouted slogans denouncing the PMDA. Their protest continued till PPP ministers reached the media gallery and assured their support.
Under the PDMA framework document, the federal government has proposed converging regulatory functions of all formats of the media, formulation of rules and guidelines for media including internet-based advertisement and its revenue.
The proposed authority has been framed as a "new statutory institution established to regulate films, electronic, print and digital media in Pakistan in the age of metadata, digital and social media, and internet-based content and advertisements."
The document proposes that the right mix of rules and principles can help the PMDA issue guidelines "to media for code of conduct and national security issues" and the proposed regulator will be given legal authority to impose sanctions if violation occurs.
"All laws related to media regulation, control or indirect control may be abolished," the framework read, adding "a new legislation to be enacted giving legal cover to the PMDA and its function."
Law and order
Apart from the contentious bill, the law and order in the province, especially street crime and kidnapping for ransom incidents, dominated the proceedings as the GDA moved a call attention notice on the matter.
"In the past 15 months, as many as 1,792 people have been killed in different incidents, including tribal feuds," said GDA lawmaker Nand Kumar Goklani. The opposition lawmaker highlighted that "83 rapes have happened in one and a half year". He added that this happened in various districts of the province.
Goklani added that 480 people have been killed in Karachi, 280 in Sukkur, 56 in Hyderabad, 196 in Mirpurkhas, 286 in Benazirabad and 472 in Larkana divisions. He said that 86 people were killed during robberies in Karachi alone.
Responding to his call attention, Sindh Excise, Taxation and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Kumar Chawla said that the Sindh government has taken drastic measures to deal with the law and order situation. "A large number of policemen have rendered their lives in the line of duty," he said, adding that the situation was far worse eight years ago.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2021.
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