Despite the government is the biggest source of spreading fake news and information, now it wants to control media and curve press freedom in the name countering fake news. Tens of journalists have lost their lives, they daily face bullying and physical harassment, and even thousands of journalists in the last three years have lost their jobs. But on one has been found and punished for such terrible crime against the journalist community. Media owners are equally responsible for curtailing rights of journalists.

The views expressed by senior journalists, experts and academic in the 7th interactive series of ZU Dialogues on ‘Pakistan Media Development Authority: Protection or control of the media industry’. The dialogue session was moderated by Syed Muaz Shah, director of the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, Ziauddin University. It was aimed to get an opinion and analysis of the experts about the PMDA.

Javeed Jabbar

“In the past 20 years, around 70 journalists have tragically lost their lives, several others have been injured, and thousands have lost professional careers and deprived of incomes. But no one is ready to accept responsibility. The government is not interested to find the responsible persons who have been involved in such terrible crime against journalists”, said Former Federal Minister for Information & Broadcasting Javed Jabbar.

He, however, said that media organizations in Pakistan need internal reforms. They should also protect the rights of their working journalists. After critically examining the situation of media industry, many questions arise on its role and attitude towards journalist community. As media organizations always hold the state-run institution accountable for their actions but journalist themselves don’t know the financial interest of the media houses they work for.

Another problem with media industry is that a majority of people don’t know who owns which media group, except the major media groups, and who are the editors and what are their professional qualifications. What role does the publisher play in determining content and what role an anchor plays and why channels running after TRP, he asked.

The PMDA is not anti-media. However, there should be an open dialogue and the government should withhold the bill until hearing everyone. New institutions should be formed through mutual consensus or adopt a simple rule that how media organization themselves reform themselves. Responsibility is not only on state or on working journalists. Media owners are also responsible as they are the ones who play behind the scenes. Their hidden faces must be exposed”, he said.

Jabbar said that journalists are very justified in saying that any attempt to regulate media would lead into their victimization and it will curve freedom of press and media. “So, if we achieve a balance of self-social and state regulations to sustain dialogue and negotiation, we would achieve a consensus on how to proceed with the PMDA”

“So far, I’m sorry to say but media has not conducted self-regulations. There is a dismal disregard of basic principles of how to present news especially on electronic media. There is hysterical hyped type of news presentation which no other foreign country presents except India. And in many ways, we are just trying to imitate India the way we preach and shouts, and rushing to the screen in the name of breaking news without verified authentic data”

“The appeals against the cases to be decided in the media tribunal of the PDMA can only be challenged in the apex court which is very strange because it bypass the high courts. Therefore, Supreme Court will reject this law for being unconstitutional. Instead of reforming the existing law, the PMDA wants to create a new single window opportunity which I don’t think is practical”.

Mazhar Abbas

On the occasion, Senior Journalists and Analyst Mazhar Abbas said that out of 7 legislations including Motion Pictures Ordinance 1979, Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) Act 1973, and the Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance 2002 and others at least 5 of them have nothing to do with fake news. He said Fawad Chauhdry had been issuing contradictory statements and perhaps he had not read any of these 7 legislations.

“The day this authority will be established, all licenses of TV channels and declarations of newspapers cease to exist and these newspapers and channels have to re-apply for their licensing and then every year you have to apply for renewal. And they have the authority to cancel it any time. It is more or less the same as in the 1960s Former president Ayub Khan Introduced press and publication ordinance and after that many newspapers were closed down and taken over by the government,” he said.

“I can say with authority that the biggest source of fake news in Pakistan has always been the ministry of information.”

Talking about the challenges that media usually face, Dr. Huma Baqai International Relations Expert and Political Analyst Associate Professor of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts, and former Associate Dean, Faculty of Business Administration, IBA Karachi said “Workers of private news channels are not independent.

“TV channels do talk against Political parties but I have never seen any of them talking about corruption in banking sector, construction mafia and others,” she said.

Presenting her argument about PMDA she said “Firstly, right now the government has created a problem for itself. This is the biggest blunder made by the government to give an opportunity to the broken opposition parties to unite back and use this PDMA agenda for their own good. Secondly, the Government has polarized the already polarized political situation and thirdly this political arrogance by the Imran khan government is also self-defeating.”

Journalist Zarrar Khuhro said the number 1 source of fake news in Pakistan is the government. They create a false narrative and then they say that we are fighting against it, he remarked.

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