Marriyum castigates PTI govt for strangulating media freedom

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb stated on Friday that some persons were now delivering  speeches on freedom of expression though they themselves had kept the ‘media corner’ in the Parliament House closed, banned programmes by journalists, and strangulated freedom of media during their four-year stint in power.

Talking to the media outside the Parliament House, on a question about the economic crisis, inflation and violation of the IMF agreement, she said the PTI chief just manoeuvred to shift the blame from his economic team and his cabinet for the theft of 190 million pounds.

Castigating the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman, she said the person arrived in courts covering his face with a bucket, box or canister as he could not face the masses and had no answer for theft allegations.

“We suffered censorship for four years but we did not put buckets, boxes or canisters on our faces and faced the odds bravely with our heads high,” she added.

The minister said the PEMRA (Amendment) Bill 2023 was a serious piece of legislation and on her request, the bill was referred to the Senate’s Standing Committee, which should give a constructive opinion about it. The bill had already been passed by the National Assembly.

He said “an incompetent, inefficient, corrupt and fascist group” remained  in control of the legislature and the government for four years, which kept the media corner closed in the Parliament and today they were talking about freedom of press and freedom of expression.

She said 12-month long consultation was held on the PEMRA bill. All the representative organizations of the media, including the Parliamentary Reporters Association, provided their professional input and guidance for which she was grateful to them. The bill would further strengthen the freedom of expression in the country, she added.

Marriyum said while tabling the bill in the Senate today, she briefed the House about the amendments being made in it. In the amended bill, the difference between misinformation and disinformation had been defined, besides providing the margin of error.

As per the bill, powers, after taking back from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) chairman, had now been given to the Council of Complaints which had representation of the media as well, she added.

The minister said the bill was drafted in consensus of all media organizations, and unanimously passed by the National Assembly after thorough discussion by its Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting . However, she wished that the senators should also have their opinion on the bill as it was a serious legislation.

“I do not want to make it controversial, so I requested the Senate chairman to send the bill to the Senate’s Standing Committee,” she added. There were enough members in the House to pass the bill, but the government wanted to complete the process and did not object to sending it to the committee, the minister said.

Taking a jibe on the PTI chief,  she said today was not the era when the programmes hosted by journalists were banned. On the contrary, the prime minister got the title of a ‘media predator’ as journalists were kidnapped,  arrested, beaten and imprisoned during his government, she added.

Marriyum said the bill had been sent to the standing committee as the opinion of all the senators was important. However, there should be constructive discussion in the committee so that the legislation could be improved but there should not be opposition for the sake of opposition, she added.

The minister said the world was moving towards “co-regulation” and “self-regulation”, and after assessing the laws and best practices of the world, the PEMRA law was being amended.

Answering a question, she said the chairman of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Information was absconding. The Senate chairman had the power to  appoint any member of  the committee as its acting chairman for the important legislation.

To another question, she said the PRA guided her in the preparation of the bill for which she was thankful to it. The Council of Complaints had been given powers to summon the person to whom the matter was related to.

To a query, the minister said the intention and purpose was clear and during the previous regime, the then opposition suffered the censorship but the present opposition did not face such situation.

She expressed the hope that the bill would also be approved by the Senate. To a question, the minister said the former prime minister never took responsibility for any action, citing that he put the  blame on his economic team for economic issues and the cabinet for the 90 million pounds plunder. Similarly, he diverted the issue of stolen watch from the Toshakhana to his military secretary, she added.

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