Opposition leaders from various political parties on Sunday joined journalists staging a sit-in outside of the Parliament House to protest against the government’s proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).
Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, PPP’s Farhatullah Babar, Senator Akram Dashti, Tahir Bizenjo of the National Party, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, JUI-F leaders and several members of the National Assembly from Opposition parties also joined in.
Addressing the journalists, Abbasi said that while journalism was independent across the globe, the opposite was happening in Pakistan.
“Laws on how to control the press are being introduced in Pakistan under the guise of the PMDA,” Abbasi said. “If the government has some problems with the content being aired, then merely phoning the channel concerned could have been enough.”
The former premier went on to say that in countries where the press was not free, citizens were not free either.
“It is the constitutional right of the people of the country to express their views; we are not talking about politics here,” Abbasi said. “Was the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) not enough that we needed another media authority?”
“Today, policemen are standing with sticks in their hands to stop journalists,” Abbasi said. “A law to suppress the truth is being made.”
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb also addressed the protesting crowd. She said that the proposed media authority law was an attempt to “eliminate journalists.”
“The government has made a dictatorial move and the PML-N stands in solidarity with the journalist community against it,” she said.
Addressing the protest, PPP leader Shazia Marri said that the PMDA was only proposed to control the media.
“All opposition parties reject the PDMA bill,” Marri said. “It is unfortunate that the information minister continues to lie that the PFUJ has been supporting the bill.”
“We reject this media martial law,” she said.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has also expressed solidarity with the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).
In a statement, the HRCP described the PMDA as a draconian law.
“The PMDA bill is the PTI government’s attempt to further stifle freedom of expression in the country,” the HRCP said in a statement.
The PFUJ called the sit-in outside the Parliament House against the proposed PMDA bill on Sunday.
The PFUJ had urged the journalist community, civil society, human rights groups, trade unions and the masses to join the sit-in.
“It is time to demonstrate unity for a common cause. The proposed PMDA will not just be a body to regulate the media sector but will serve as the central censorship office of the state aimed at regulating the freedoms of expression of all citizens of Pakistan,” the statement issued by PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and General Secretary Nasir Zaidi had said.
A camp was established in front of the Parliament on Sunday night (September 12) and the leadership promised to remain there till the conclusion of the joint sitting of the Parliament on Monday.