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The International Publishers Association (IPA) has joined the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in calling on the Pakistani authorities to retract plans to establish the ‘Pakistan Media Development Authority’ (PMDA) which represents a dangerous step towards state control of all media.

The PMDA would replace existing media regulatory bodies and would oversee “films, electronic, print and digital media” across every domain, from registrations to wages, licensing to the allocation of government advertising, as well as both civil and criminal complaints procedures.

The book publishing and journalism bodies are also worried about the proposed governance of the PMDA and its lack of independence from the government.  It is proposed that the PMDA board’s eight members, as well as the chairman, will be appointed by the government.

WAN-IFRA, IPA, and IFJ are particularly alarmed by a provision that allows the new authority the power to shortlist members of Media Tribunals, vested with the power to hand down punishments of up to three years in jail and fines of up to 25 million Pakistani rupees (approximately $150,000 US). Decisions made by the Media Tribunals can only be appealed before the Supreme Court.

In addition, the three organisations express strong reservations about the secrecy behind the drafting of the new PMDA law, with the bill having only recently been shared by the government and receiving no input from media or civil society stakeholders.

While welcoming the establishment in mid-September of a committee that will allow media organisations to consult with the Federal Information Minister on the proposals for the PMDA, a first meeting has yet to be held or even called.

José Borghino, Secretary General of the International Publishers Association said: “The International Publishers Association stands alongside news publishers and journalists in calling for the Pakistani authorities to withdraw their plans for the Pakistan Media Development Authority. The potential impact on freedom of expression and the freedom to publish are clear and it is alarming to see the current health crisis being used as cover to stifle independent media.”

Vincent Peyrègne, CEO of WAN-IFRA, said: “We urge the Pakistan government to actively collaborate with representatives of the media on any such proposed law, particularly given its wide-ranging authority and the high potential for the infringement of press freedom.”