ISLAMABAD: Amid pressure from media and civil society, the government on Monday abandoned the idea of promulgating the Pakistan Print Media Regulatory Authority (PPMRA) Ordinance 2017, ordering strict action against three officers for unilaterally moving ahead with the proposal.
The repressive stipulations of the draft law aimed to regulate the print media by making it mandatory for newspapers to seek annual renewal of their licences and sought to give authorities power to raid media houses at will.
The draft was on the agenda of the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP), which was scheduled to meet on Monday. But the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting intervened in the matter, requesting PCP Chairman Dr Salahuddin Mengal to drop the item from the agenda of the council’s 15th general meeting.
Later, a detailed office order was issued by Information Secretary Sardar Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera, which stated that PCP chairman Salauddin Mengal informed the secretary that the development of a draft PPMRA 2017 was initiated following a meeting with the information minister on March 3, 2017.
“However, there are no formal minutes of the meeting or instructions of the minister of state available on record in this regard,” the order stated.
According to the communiqué, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb “categorically denied having given any such instructions”.
As a result, two information service officers — Internal Publicity Wing Director General Nasir Jamal and External Publicity Wing Director Tahir Hasan — have been made officers on special duty (OSD), while Internal Publicity Wing Assistant Director Saadullah Mahar has been suspended with immediate effect.
External Publicity Wing DG Shafqat Jalil has been appointed inquiry officer to conduct a fact-finding inquiry in the matter and fix responsibility. He has been asked to submit a report within three days.
Meanwhile, the PCP held its 15th general meeting, where it unanimously resolved to disapprove the proposed PPMRA 2017 ordinance, welcoming the government’s decision to withdraw the proposed draft.
Following the meeting, PCP council members from the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) and Council of Newspaper Editors (CPNE) held a press conference.
APNS senior vice president Kazi Asad Abid said that a representative of their body met Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who had assured journalists that this draft was not in line with the government’s policy, nor could the ruling party think of enacting such legislation.
The draft continued to be lambasted by the opposition and human rights groups on Monday.
In a statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed strong reservations over the proposed draft that “is apparently aimed at gagging the print media”, vowing to “vigorously resist any such attempt”.
“The draft… has shocked civil society and advocates of freedom of expression not just because of its contents but also the manner in which it made its appearance and by a complete lack of engaging with the stakeholders,” the commission deplored.
“The federal information minister has said that she had nothing to do with the proposed draft and the parliamentarians have also been kept in the dark. It is imperative to understand where this draft emanated from all of a sudden and at whose behest,” it said.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) also raised the issue, with Senator Farhatullah Babar asking for an inquiry into how the draft was “secretly drafted in the darkness of the night, behind the back of parliament and stakeholders to stifle newspapers through unprecedented coercive measures”.
Speaking on a point of public importance in the Senate, he termed the proposed PPMRA Ordinance a throwback to the notorious 1963 Press and Publications Ordinance of the Ayub era.
“Marriyum Aurangzeb is an honorable person and maybe she’s telling the truth. But one thing is undeniable; someone in the ministry has used her name to secretly [put forward] a sinister anti-press ordinance”, he said.
In a separate statement, Senator Sherry Rehman also voiced her opposition to the PPMRA draft, saying: “It is rather alarming that such a draconian law can even see the day of light under a democratically elected government in the 21st century. Freedom of press and information are major pillars for consolidated democracy”.
“The government must publicly renounce any possibility that the anti-democratic PPMRA Ordinance will become law,” she concluded.
Meanwhile, the PFUJ in a statement expressed satisfaction over the government’s announcement about withdrawal of the proposed draft law. It, however, demanded that the forces behind this conspiracy should be exposed.