Demonstration to continue in front of Parliament House until conclusion of President Alvi’s address to joint session
Responding to calls by various journalist bodies, including the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, members of the journalism community on Sunday commenced a sit-in protest outside Parliament House in Islamabad to demonstrate against the government’s proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).
After marching from the National Press Club, the protesters reached Parliament House and set up camp, with the PFUJ saying the sit-in would continue until the conclusion of President Arif Alvi’s address to a joint session of Parliament, scheduled to commence at 4 p.m. today (Monday). The protesting journalists were joined by various representatives of opposition parties, with Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) President Shahbaz Sharif vowing to resist all attempts by the government to muzzle the media.
Addressing the protesters, PFUJ General Secretary Nasir Zaidi emphasized that the proposed authority had been rejected by the journalist community, adding that it was intended to stifle freedom of expression. Another senior journalist noted that this wasn’t the first time a government had tried to censor media, adding that like earlier attempts, this one would also be fought off by journalists seeking to protect freedom of the press.
Senior journalist Imtiaz Alam, in his speech, claimed the government was trying to introduce a “media martial law,” adding that the government’s stated claim of using the PMDA to stem fake news was flawed, as it was only by allowing journalists to work independently and speak the truth that such reports could be rubbished.
Several independent bodies have slammed the PMDA in recent weeks. Last month, international watchdog Human Rights Watch slammed the proposed law, emphasizing that the government had failed to even provide a draft of its text to stakeholders. On Saturday, the Parliamentary Reporters Association announced that journalists would boycott Alvi’s presidential address in Parliament to protest the government’s attempt to impose the PMDA on them.
Separately, the Supreme Court Bar Association and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have both voiced concern at the proposed legislation. Announcing its support for journalists, the SCBA said that those in power were trying to enslave the media. The HRCP, meanwhile, described the PMDA as a “draconian” law, adding: “The PMDA bill is the PTI government’s attempt to further stifle freedom of expression in the country.”
The PTI-led government has struggled with media freedom since almost its formation in 2018, with journalists stressing that their right to report was being hampered. Reporters Without Borders, earlier this year, described Prime Minister Imran Khan as a “predator of press freedom,” and noted that Pakistan remained one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists.