Hundreds of journalists in Pakistan on Monday protested in front of the Parliament against a proposed law that they said if enacted would drastically curtail press freedom in the country. They held a rally in front of the National Press Club in Islamabad, which was attended by media workers, members of opposition parties and activists.
By the night, the protestors started a sit-in protest in front of the Parliament House. It continued till Monday when President Arif Alvi addressed the joint sitting of their bicameral parliament to launch the fourth parliamentary year of the current National Assembly.
Opposition boycotted the session and joined the media protest and in their speeches, they supported the concerns of journalists that the new law aimed to gag free media.
President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shehbaz Sharif said in his address that his party would stand by the journalists in preventing the government to bring new regulations.
“We will oppose the new law in the Parliament and make sure that it is defeated and the press freedom is not curtailed,” he said.
Cabinet ministers and government spokesmen have been pedalling for weeks to sell the idea that the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) being created through the new law would ensure timely payments to media workers and curb the menace of fake news.
“We want to change the culture of fake news and make those people accountable who deal in such news,” information minister Fawad Chaudhry said in an interview, adding that honest journalists should not worry from the new legislation.
But media leaders said that the proposed bill would repeal existing media laws by replacing them with the PMDA, which would be conferred with arbitrary powers to shut down media outlets and establish tribunals to penalise journalists and media houses for writing against the higher echelons of the Pakistani state - military officials, judges and government leaders.
It is reported that the PMDA would also be empowered to regulate social media and tighten official control over it.
“If the government really wants to address the problems of media workers, then why is it shy of sharing the draft of the proposed law with media professionals,” senior journalist Mazhar Abbas told Dunya News TV.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has also expressed concerns over what it called a “draconian” regulatory framework, while various bars or associations of lawyers have expressed support for journalists opposing the new law.