April 20, 2022
ISLAMABAD – Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb announced on Tuesday that the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) was being disbanded in “whatever shape or form it was working”.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad shortly after taking oath as the information minister, she said no “black” law would be enacted or worked upon that would restrict the people’s constitutional right to freedom of expression.
“The attempt to bring a black law [in the form of the PMDA] to restrict the voice of the already under-pressure media … I announce today that the PMDA in whatever shape or form it was working till now is being disbanded.”
At the outset of her presser, Aurangzeb expressed solidarity with journalists, including Matiullah Jan, Hamid Mir and Asad Toor and those whose programmes were taken off-air under the previous government.
“If the freedom of expression remains in the society, it not only makes the society evolve but, in my opinion and in my party’s opinion, it further strengthens the government’s performance and actions.”
A joint action committee comprising all stakeholders, including media organisations, would meet to discuss the media’s problems, she said, adding that a consultative solution would be found that would be workable and acceptable to all.
No regulatory authority would be established other than the already functioning Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), she asserted.
The PTI government had proposed the formation of the PMDA last year, which if set up, would have been solely responsible for the regulation of print, broadcast and digital media in Pakistan.
The proposal had been heavily criticised by journalists, activists and the then-opposition.
The information minister recalled that the previous government tried to bring a “black law” — Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022 — that was later struck down by the Islamabad High Court (IHC).
She shared that the newly appointed Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar had decided to review the Peca law introduced in 2016 in consultation with all stakeholders, including the parts where the right to freedom of expression was “misconstrued” and gaps were present.
“The way the Peca Ordinance was used to file FIRs against journalist Mohsin Baig overnight and the way his ribs were broken [during a raid on his house] … we will try to review it with [all stakeholders].”
In addition, the bill related to journalists’ protection would be made implementable soon, she said.
“Criticise us. We will accept it wholeheartedly if it can improve the lives of Pakistanis and the government’s performance,” she added.
The people of Pakistan had “heard abuses and witnessed thuggery” whether it was on the opposition, parliament or media during the four years of the PTI government, she said, adding that society had also seen a “reduction in discourse and listening to counter-arguments” during that time.
“The opposition was thrown into the wheels of death to save the government, the doors of parliament were closed by legislating through ordinances and the media was oppressed. I want a new era to start. This chaos should end.
“The people of Pakistan know that the incumbent government is representative and all political parties are included. Together, we will end this chaotic situation.”
She said the new government would not continue the tradition of “bad accountability” against political opponents that was done during the PTI’s tenure and no innocent person would be sent to jail.
The law would take its course, she stressed. “The law is present [to deal with] all those people who deprived the citizens of Pakistan of basic necessities and it will take its course.”
Responding to a question on whether the government would take action on anti-army and anti-judiciary campaigns on social media, she said action had already been initiated against those accounts.
“Tweets were generated through bots. We have their Twitter handles. The ongoing campaign using faceless Twitter accounts and handles will not only be ended but FIA (Federal Investigation Agency) [will also be involved]. There is zero tolerance for this.”
She said the PTI could not “blame journalists for its failed governance” and take their “failed politics” to their houses. There would be zero tolerance for sharing journalists’ addresses on social media so protests could be held outside their houses, she added.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had issued instructions to protect the journalists’ houses, she said, adding that Islamabad police had been put on alert.
Replying to another question, she said the new government would not level allegations against anyone but if some misdeed was done, then the law would take its course.
“Action will be taken on whatever has been done in an organisation that was in violation of the law.”
The minister said she had disbanded the Digital Media Wing set up by the previous government and the remaining employees were transferred to the cyber wing.