Global Human Rights Defence

Discussing the controversy surrounding the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA)

On August 23rd, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published an article about proposed legislation by the Pakistani government which would bolster the powers of the government to censor and restrict the media (Gossman, 2021). Since then, human rights activists, together with journalists and political leaders have been attempting to speak out against what has been named the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA). But what is the PMDA, and how would it increase governmental control and censorship?

The PMDA has been conceived as a regulatory body aimed at replacing the current media regulatory environment, which has been described as “fractured” and fragmented” by the government (Khan, 2021). According to HRW, the PMDA will be the only responsible authority for regulating newspapers, television broadcast and digital media in Pakistan (Grossman, 2021). The drafted ordinance aims to abolish all previous laws pertaining to media regulation, replacing them with fresh legal cover for the PMDA and its functions (Khan, 2021). HRW claims that the PMDA law would grant new unchecked powers to the government-controlled regulator, creating special “media tribunals” able to impose steep fines for media organisations and journalists who violate its code of conduct (Grossman, 2021). Moreover, the government has kept the entire drafting process secret, raising further concern among the media (Grossman, 2021).

The Pakistani Embassy in the US responded to the HRW accusations, and rejected their claims, asserting that the PMDA would ensure freedom, empowerment and development of media in Pakistan (Shah, 2021). Spokesperson Maliha Shahid said in a letter to Patricia Grossman, HRW’s Associated Asia Editor, that there is no plan to introduce the regulatory body through an ordinance, adding that there was the need to introduce holistic policy responses to fake news, hate speech, disinformation. (The News, 2021b). Ms. Grossman responded with a tweet, in which she said: “Wow. You have identified no inaccuracies in our article and you have failed to provide a draft of the law. What are you hiding? Here is our dispatch.” (The News, 2021b). The first formulation of the PMDA was apparently presented in May when President Dr Arif Alvi promulgated the Pakistan Media Development Authority, Ordinance, 2021 (Chakrabarti, 2021).

However, a week later, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting constituted a sub-committee to hold negotiation and regular consultation with journalists bodies (The News, 2021a). During a meeting with Doctor Christian Turner, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, Minister for Information and Broadcasting claimed that PMDA was aimed at ensuring a cohesive approach to media development and efficient management whilst providing a one-window operation to media practitioners and consumers (Dawn, 2021). Prime Minister Imran Khan emphasised the intention to find consensus with the stakeholders.

1 Honor killing is the murder of a family member, usually a woman or girl, for the purported reason that the person has brought dishonour or shame upon the family.

These killings often have to do with sexual purity, and supposed transgressions on the part of female family members. (UN WOMEN)

On the other hand, Fawad Hussain claimed that the media was being used as a tool in the ongoing media war game, and ruled out the possibility of any compromise on clauses comprising media workers’ rights and curb fake news (The News, 2021a).

In the EU Disinformation Lab report2, some 875 fake websites were pointed out for being used for spreading fake news against the country. Fawad Hussain cites several cases in which fake news has had a destabilising effect on Pakistani society (The News, 2021a). It looks clear from these claims that the Pakistani government feels more than justified to bring the PMDA forward in its realisation. Its main vindications appears to be an increase in the profit that comes from the media market and the aim to limit fake news for social security’s sake.

Nonetheless, these official statements haven’t convinced journalists, who by and large maintained strong reservations towards the PMDA (Dawn, 2021).

On September 12th, The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ)3 organised a march from the National Press Club to Parliament House climaxing in a sit-in outside Parliament House against the Pakistan Media Development Authority (Chakrabarti, 2021). Some leaders of the opposition parties even joined journalists in the protest outside the parliament house to stand in solidarity against what they deem a “black law” (Dunya News, 2021). Most notably, Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)4, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari with Mian Shehbaz Sharif, President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)5, expressed solidarity with the journalists in their struggle for the freedom of media in the country (Dunya News, 2021).

  1. EU DisinfoLab is an independent non-profit organisation focused on tackling sophisticated disinformation campaigns targeting the EU, its member states, core institutions, and core
  2. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) is a trade union federation of journalists in Pakistan founded on 2nd August Their website can be found at https://pfuj.pk/.
  3. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is a centre-left, social-democratic political party in Pakistan founded in Their website can be found at https://www.ppp.org.pk/.
  4. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) is a centre-right, conservative political party in Pakistan, founded in Their website can be found at ttps://pmln.org/.

Press Freedom is an integral part of freedom of expression, and it’s indispensable in a functional democratic society. Furthermore, minority groups have additional need for this specific kind of freedom. For instance, if a minority ends up being discriminated against, a free press is the main tool to point out and speak out against the perpetrators of the discrimination. Without a free press, minorities are deprived of the main tool to report and condemn discriminatory behaviours. This is the paramount reason why non-governmental organisations like Human Rights Watch have focused on the proposal of the PMDA as a potentially worrying sign for the implementation of draconian censorship, and this is also what opposition parties are scared of (Dunya News, 2021).

Even a group of Pakistani journalists in Britain condemned the Pakistan government plans

with a protest held outside the Pakistan High Commission6  in London (Shah, 2021).

Furthermore, journalists leaders condemned the fact that officials of the Pakistan High Commission called journalists individually, asking them not to hold the protest and threatening serious consequences for organising the protest. From the journalists perspective, media tribunals are the major threat of the new PMDA because they will force journalists not to be objective and impartial (Shah, 2021).

Meanwhile, on September 16th, the representatives of the media industry and the government have formed a committee to address the controversial PMDA. The Joint Action Committee expressed its reservations on the proposed PMDA and termed it unacceptable (Kalbe, 2021). Nonetheless, Senator Faisal Javed assured the committee that Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government would not impose any restriction on the freedom of the press (Kalbe, 2021).

  1. The High Commission of Pakistan in London is the diplomatic mission of Pakistan in the United Kingdom. For more info, visit their site at https://www.phclondon.org/main/.

Almost an entire month has passed from the day Patricia Grossman published her article, firstly raising attention on the Pakistan Media Development Authority bill (Grossman, 2021). From then, journalistic organisations, international organisations, opposition parties and many more raised their voices, protested and asked for a more democratic revision of media laws. The government, although acting defensively, opened for a committee to address the issue amicably, and started a debate with several stakeholders. Nevertheless, the controversy is far from its end, and we will have to wait and hope that all parties involved will cooperate to protect freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Pakistan.

References

Abbasi, Kashif, (2021), Journalists begin protest against govt’s PMDA move, published in Dawn on September 13, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1646173/politicians- civil-society-express-solidarity-with-journalists-in-protest-against-proposed-media- authority

Chakrabarti, Angana (2021) Pakistani journalists are protesting Imran Khan’s ‘black’ law. Shehbaz Sharif is all ears. Published on September 13, 2021 in The Print. https://theprint.in/go-to-pakistan/pakistani-journalists-ar e-protesting-imran-khans- black-law-shehbaz-sharif-is-all-ears/732692/

Dunya News Staff, (2021). Opposition terms PMDA bill as ‘black law’, vows to stand with journalists. Published on September 13 in Dunya News. https://dunyanews.tv/ en/Pakistan/619543-Opposition-terms-PMDA-bill-as-/’black-law/’,-vows-to-stand- with-journalist

Kalbe, Ali (2021), Media bodies term PMDA ‘unacceptable’, form committee to address issue of fake news, published in Dawn on September 16, 2021, https:// www.dawn.com/news/1646644/media-bodies-term-pmda-unacceptable-form- committee-to-address-issue-of-fake-news

Khan, Zeb Mubarak (2021), ‘Democracy will die’: Politicians, civil society join journalists in protest against proposed media authority, published in Dawn on September 13, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1646173/democracy-will-die-politicians-civil- society-join-journalists-in-protest-against-proposed-media-authority

Gossman, Patricia (2021) Proposed Pakistan Authority Seeks Greater Control of Media, published on August 23, 2021 in HRW. https://www.hrw.org/news/ 2021/08/23/proposed-pakistan-authority-seeks-greater-control-media

Shah, Murtaza Ali (2021), PMDA issue: Journalists hold protest in London. Published on September 13, 2021 in The News International. https://www.thenews.com.pk/ print/892003-pmda-issue-journalists-hold-protest-in-london

Staff Reporter, (2021), Reporters to boycott president’s address to join sitting, published on September 12, 2021 in Dawn https://www.dawn.com/ news/1645894/ reporters-to-boycott-presidents-address-to-joint-sitting

 

 

 

The News, (2021a), Committee formed to review PMDA, published on September 3, 2021 in The News https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/887203-committee-formed-to- review-pmda

The News, (2021b), Pak Embassy rejects HRW claim about PMDA, published on August 26, 2021 in The News https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/883379-pak-embassy- rejects-hrw-claim-about-pmda

 

 
  

 

POPULAR POSTS

Subscribe to our Newsletter

FOLLOW US

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)
(Europe)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher
(Africa)

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Africa)​

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.

 

Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.