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Pakistan journalists to take out the long march from Quetta to Islamabad

Representational image. Pakistani journalists across the country plan to march nearly 1,000 kms from Quetta to Islamabad in protest against the proposed legislation--Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) being introduced by the government (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@ smhugrluu)

Pakistani journalists across the country plan to march nearly 1,000 kms from Quetta to Islamabad in protest against the proposed legislation–Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) being introduced by the government.

Media bodies have already denounced the legislation as "unconstitutional". Various other associations including the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors have voiced their opposition. 

Hundreds of journalists have been gathered at a sit-in outside the Parliament to protest against the legislation. They have been supported by political parties, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Supreme Court Bar Association and the international media against the PMDA.

They say the Imran Khan government is trying to curb the freedom of speech and expression. Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said: "The journalist fraternity considers the bill a draconian piece of legislation and rejects it in its entirety".

Pakistani media organisation Geo TV reported that Fawad Chaudhry, Minister of Information, is adamant on implementing the bill.

One of the reasons for the opposition is that the Imran Khan government wants to set up an omnibus organisation for the print, TV, radio, film and social media to be able to control the media better. However, journalists say that each media format has its own unique dynamics which cannot be governed by a single authority or regulator.

Journalists also say that the law goes against the spirit of article 19 of the Pakistani Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and expression. They add that the new law will vest the government with new powers like steep fines on media organisations and also individual journalists.

Journalists allege that the government will also have the power to appoint officials to key positions in the media, effectively taking away the freedom of the media.

On the other hand, the information ministry says that the proliferation of fake news through social media platforms needs to be regulated and the PMDA seeks to address that concern.

Zaidi–the man spearheading the protests, is a legend in media circles in the country. For decades, he has stood up for media freedom in a country that has swung from democracy to military rule too often. Once again he is at the forefront of an agitation that seeks to battle the power establishment.

Pakistan ranks rather low on the world press freedom index despite fearless journalists and a spunky media.

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