Category: REPORTS

20 Aug
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Govt attempt to muzzle media and public interest journalism through draconian PMDA rejected outrightly by stakeholders, media, legal fraternity human rights community and civil society 

JOINT STATEMENT BY PFUJ, HRCP, PBC,  AGHS, SAFMA, DigiMAP, FN, IRADA, DRF, MMFD and others

ISLAMABAD: Key stakeholders of media and civil society have completely rejected as draconian and unacceptable both the government proposal to create a new authority to regulate the entire spectrum of the country’s media sector including print, electronic, digital and film, as well as its attempt to wrongly claim support for it, a joint statement issued here, declared.

The proposed establishment of Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) by merging all existing media and sundry regulators and repealing major media related legislations is unacceptable because this entails bulldozing existing structures and mandates for the purpose of addressing government concerns rather than reforming them from the perspectives of either the media, journalists, citizens or media consumers of Pakistan.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), Asma Jahangir’s AGHS, Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan (DigiMAP), Freedom Network (FN), Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), Media Matter for Democracy (MMFD) and others oppose and reject the PMDA.

This joint statement is also being publicly endorsed by dozens of civil society organizations, human rights defenders and prominent journalists, citizens and groups. All key media industry associations including All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS), Council of Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) have already outrightly rejected PMDA proposal, as have leading political parties including Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N.

While rejecting as patently false the repeated claims of the Federal Information Minister that the PMDA proposal is endorsed by any of the signatories of this statement, we reiterate that we collectively reject outrightly and oppose vehemently the proposed PMDA that the federal government has repeatedly announced it intends to establish shortly, as it is draconian in scope and devastating in its impact on the principles and constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression, media freedoms, right to information and human rights as well as the practise of the noble profession of journalism.

We believe the proposal reflects a dictatorial “martial law mindset” hostile to the concept of people’s pluralist freedom of expression and embodies the anti-media proclivity of an army of government spokespersons that demonize the media and distribute “certificates of treason and patriotism.” This is unacceptable and runs contrary to rights-based constitutional democracy in which dissent is a legitimate tool of democratic exercise. Citizens and media differing with government policies and holding contrarian perceptions is the lifeblood of democracies and do not constitute treason or mischief. The government must respect these democratic principles.

The government proposal includes repealing all current media related laws including The Press Council Ordinance 2002, The Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance 2002, the Newspaper Employees, (Conditions of Services Acts) 1973, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 as amended by PEMRA Amendment Act 2007, and The Motion Pictures Ordinance 1979 and to merge all the current media regulators into a single entity called “Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).”

Instead of reforming these laws, upending the current media regulatory regime, as proposed in the law, will destroy all public media as it exists in Pakistan today, despite its myriad current complications, as the proposed PMDA is in direct contravention of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s promises of expanding freedom of expression before he took oath of office.

The proposed PMDA is designed to further tighten the grip of the government on all forms of media that includes not just print and electronic but also internet and digital media, and even films and drama now. The government is attempting to formalize a regime of coercive censorship even when it has no right to police the freedom of expression of 200 million citizens of Pakistan as guaranteed in the Constitution.

We express concern that after strangulating the legacy media of print and electronic that have served the country’s struggle for democracy, public interest and human rights for decades, even during the period of martial law, the government now wants to subjugate the Pakistani cyberspace also where Pakistani media is finding a new space to practise public interest journalism that is being strangulated in offline spaces. This cannot be allowed to happen as it will be tantamount to restricting digital rights and trample free speech in digital spaces and democratic diversity and socio-cultural pluralisms online.

The incumbent government is already exercising a coercive censorship policy on mainstream media and since 2019 aiming to introduce intimidating online regulations through PEMRA and PTA which have been vehemently opposed and rejected by all stakeholders and even by national and international media watchdogs and global social media giants.

The entire media sector, journalists’ community, civil society, political parties and citizens of Pakistan will oppose this dictatorial regime on media, including print, electronic and digital, tooth and nail and not allow PMDA to become the proposed new headquarters of censorship in the country.

Proposed laws that create draconian institutions such as PMDA are favoured by dictators not democrats. Such non-representative and monopolistic approaches to law making in democratic setup and elected governments has always proved to be disastrous not just for the country and society but also for government themselves. The government and ruling party will itself become the biggest victim of the draconian law by crushing freedom of expression of citizens and media freedoms for journalists as no one will be left to speak for it and communicate with its constituents.

There is an urgent need to expand media freedoms in both the digital and physical information spheres to protect all information practitioners including print, electronic and digital journalists instead of further curbing political and social pluralisms in the country, and

limiting them under a proposed PMDA that proposes expensive licensing of media operations, annual renewal permissions and trials of print, electronic and digital journalists and other content producers, including citizens.

Pakistan continues to slip further in rankings on freedom of expression and safety of journalists and information practitioners issued by global media watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders, International Federation of Journalists and Committee to Protect Journalists. If the government proposal materializes in the shape of a law or ordinance, it will end up pushing Pakistan on the bottom-most world ranks of media freedoms.

Pakistan’s economic progress depends on its digital transformation and a thriving cyberspace that fosters creativity, innovation and free expression underwritten by global standards of digital rights. Ther proposed PMDA will kill this spirit of digital progress and we will collectively oppose this.

By aiming to undermine the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and right to information as enshrined in Articles 19 and 19-A, the proposed new PMDA law is ultra vires of the constitution. We reject it completely and urge the government to abandon this misadventure failing which we will be constrained to launch a countrywide movement in concert with the media industry, civil society, digital and human rights groups, parliamentarians, political parties and global media and digital rights groups to oppose it.

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18 Mar
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Technical Stakeholders’ Consultations to Formulate Holistic Operational Strategies for Legal Cell in Combating Impunity of Crimes Against Journalists in Pakistan

With the UNESCO / Global Media Defence Fund (GMDF) support for “Reducing High Impunity in Crimes Against Journalists in Pakistan through Prosecution and Litigation”, the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) – an independent Pakistani registered social development organization – has established specialized legal cell in December 2020 ‘to provide free legal aid to journalists facing threats, attacks, restrictions and/or judicial peril during the rightful exercise of their professional duties in Pakistan and hold federal and provincial governments accountable through strategic litigation on their failure to enact special legislation on safety of journalists.’

To develop holistic operational strategies for effectiveness of the legal cell in combating impunity of crimes against journalists and online information practitioners in Pakistan, IRADA is currently conducting a series of technical consultations with the stakeholders across the country. In three of the five technical consultations, a large number of representatives of unions of journalists, digital media / journalism platforms, legal fraternity and academia participated and contribute to formulation of a collective strategy to make Pakistan’s journalists and information practitioners safer. These consultations have been organized at Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad. Remaining two consultations will be conducted in Karachi and Quetta before end of this March.

The participants of the consultations stressed upon the need for an institutionalized response – such as this Legal Cell – to the state actors’ authoritarian and dictatorial practices and non-state actors’ illegal and criminal actions against journalists and freedom of expression in the country. While appreciating the establishment of the legal cell, participants underlined importance of an inclusive approach in extending support to all journalists, especially those from socially marginalized segments such as women and religious minorities.

The participants were informed that the rate of success / relief in the cases, which are supported through the legal cell, is 100%  so far. The participants, therefore, suggested to comprehensively document the support provided through the legal cell and benefits. They argued that this documentation will help legal cell to determine nature of threats and develop a systematic response through pre-determined set of solutions.

Given geographical spread of the crimes against the journalists across the country, both in urban centres and rural areas, the participants suggest to extend legal support to the journalists in remote areas as well. Creating liaison between provincial bar councils and association and journalists’ unions through the legal cell will also help combat the culture of impunity of crimes against the journalists at local level as well, participants suggested. Role of academia, particularly law and journalism schools, in sensitizing next generation of legal experts and journalists through clinical education was also highlighted.

Latest of these consultations held in Islamabad on March 16, 2021.

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04 Feb
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IRADA launches legal cell to defend journalists in courts of law

Islamabad (February 05, 2021): The Institute of Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), a research organization based in Islamabad, has set up a specialized legal cell to provide free legal assistance to journalists. The cell, that includes experienced practitioners of constitutional, civil and criminal laws from Islamabad and the four provincial capitals, will work in coordination with the Journalists Defence Committee of Pakistan Bar Council (PBCJDC). It will provide free legal assistance to journalists facing threats, attacks, restrictions and/or judicial peril during the rightful exercise of their professional duties in Pakistan.

Muhammad Aftab Alam, Executive Director of IRADA, described the purposes of the cell to increase safety and security for journalists working in all the different parts of the country. He said, “Journalists in Pakistan have been under tremendous pressure during the last two decades. They have faced enormous challenges ranging from assaults, intimidation, harassment and kidnappings to target killing and terrorism.” He also pointed out that physical and online safety of journalists has remained a serious problem in Pakistan since 2001 as more than 130 of them have lost their lives during this period.

Mr Alam regretted the fact that only less than 5 per cent of cases in which journalists were killed have been heard by courts. This, according to him, is mainly due to the absence of institutionalized mechanism to counter impunity in crimes against journalists. “On the other hand, legal action against journalists, particularly under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) of 2016, has increase which is adding to the already enormous curbs on the freedom of expression in the country, he said. “The unfortunate aspect of these actions is that journalists were mostly left to fend for themselves as their employers did not bother to come to their aid,” he added.

To change this situation for the better, Mr Alam stressed the need to introduce a mechanism that could provide legal assistance to journalists in distress whether due to the actions of the state or by the activities of the non-state actors. “IRADA’s legal cell has been set up to fulfill that need. It will offer the much needed ‘pro bono’ support to journalists facing legal charges and challenges,” he said.

He also explained the cell’s mandate as “assisting journalists in their work-related legal problems including civil, criminal and/or any other charges they might be facing before a court of law and/or administrative entity”. The cell, according to him, also aims at initiating strategic litigation in order to create legal precedents for the protection of both journalists and the freedom of expression in Pakistan.

Mr Alam said, “Anyone engaged in the business of producing and disseminating news and facing legal (civil or criminal) charges can approach the cell for assistance. This assistance can range from the provision of legal opinion to defending journalist in courts of law.”

He also explained that that a three-member committee, consisting of the nominees of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and IRADA, will oversee the functioning of the cell. The committee will be authorized to decide whether the cell should accept a request for assistance and what should be the extent of its support in each case. A dedicated email account (legal@irada.org.pk) has also been created to receive applications/requests from journalists in distress.

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06 May