–Sources say govt has taken decision ‘in principle’ after it was advised against fighting the press
–CPNE president says protests against proposed media gags will continue till govt makes formal announcement
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has decided “in principle” to shelve its plan of establishing special media tribunals after national and international media rights watchdogs and leading opposition parties put up fierce resistance against the intended gagging of the press.
Informed sources told Pakistan Today on Friday that the government was forced to eat its words after journalist organisations, such as Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Pakistan Broadcaster Association (PBA), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, press clubs and rights outfits across the country protested against its decision.
“The government has been advised not to open another front with the press, as it is already entangled in political and diplomatic battles both at home and abroad. It seems better sense has prevailed and the government has decided to back off for now at least,” said the source.
The source added that an official announcement in this regard would be made soon to placate the agitating journalist bodies.
“This decision would help both government and the media to focus fully on national issues and work in tandem with each other.”
On Sept 17, PM’s Special Assistant on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said, in a press conference after a meeting of the federal cabinet, that the government has decided to establish special tribunals to settle cases of media organisations, workers, owners, and citizens.
She also announced that the government would get a law passed from parliament in this regard.
According to her, all media-related cases would be transferred to the special tribunals, which would be bound to decide on the matter within 90 days of receiving complaints.
Dr Firdous said the decision had been taken as part of media rules and regulations “the government intended to introduce in Pakistan like the best practices being followed in other democratic countries”.
Setting up the tribunals would make the media more responsible, she said, adding that the decision would “help prevail truth and supremacy of law, besides encouraging the process of self-accountability in the media”.
According to the PM’s special aide, the decision had been taken after Prime Minister Imran Khan endorsed the cabinet members’ concern that some elements were levelling allegations against government personalities, including the PM, by “taking advantage of freedom of expression”.
‘ATTACK ON PRESS FREEDOM’:
Although Dr Firdous claimed that the tribunals would be free from government control or influence as government functionaries would also be accountable to them, journalists and human rights advocates have feared the introduction of the courts amid complaints of growing pressure on broadcasters and newspapers to avoid covering critics of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration.
In July, opposition parties accused PM Imran of intimidating broadcasters into a blackout on TV coverage of his critics, after several channels were briefly taken off-air and opposition protests and news conferences passed unreported.
Imran, who took office last year, has denied censoring media and has called the accusations a “joke”.
Talking to Pakistan Today, veteran journalist and CPNE President Arif Nizami said that media outfits would take the government’s decision to shelve the proposal with a pinch of salt until an official notification is issued to this effect.
Nizami said that the CPNE had unanimously rejected the proposed media tribunals and warned the government against introducing such “dictatorial and black laws”.
He said that a special meeting held in Karachi on Thursday, which was attended by senior newspaper editors from all over Pakistan and the representatives of political parties, had observed that any attempt to put curbs on the media would not be acceptable in any case.
“We will not allow any attack on press freedom. The idea of setting up discriminatory tribunals is contrary to the fundamentals of media freedom as well as democracy,” he said, vowing to resist any effort to browbeat the media.
“We got media freedom after a long struggle and many sacrifices, so it could not be compromised any way,” Nizami said.
The APNS has also pledged to fight the government’s proposed legislation tooth and nail.
“Special courts aimed at intimidating and strangulating the media and freedom of expression are not only unconstitutional but also contrary to the spirit of democracy,” the APNS said in a statement.
This is not the first the Imran Khan government has tried to muzzle the freedom of press.
Earlier in January, the federal cabinet approved formation of the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) that envisaged merger of all bodies regulating media, including the print and electronic media.
Then information minister Fawad Chaudhry had said that the government believed that there should be one regulatory authority to look after all the media, and the same laws should apply across the board.
However, the proposed legislation has been put on the back burner for now.