As part of its crackdown on freedom of expression, the government is seeking broad new powers in the garb of the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA), says Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“The government claims an ordinance setting up the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) would replace the ‘fractured’ regulatory environment and fragmented media regulations currently in place. The proposed PMDA would bring all media in Pakistan – print, television, radio, films, and digital media – under one regulator,” HRW said in its statement.

The PMDA law would grant new unchecked powers to the government-controlled regulator by setting up special “media tribunals” that will have the power to impose steep fines for media organisations and journalists who violate its code of conduct or publish content it deems to be “fake news”.

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The proposed law would also increase government control by allowing government officials to be appointed to key positions.

With journalists under relentless attack for doing their jobs, the Pakistan government needs to stop trying to control reporters and instead start protecting media freedom, added HRW.

Earlier this month, the representatives of media organisations rejected the proposed PMDA and termed the concept as an unconstitutional and draconian law against freedom of press and expression and a step toward imposing state control to regulate all segments of media under over-centralised body.

The major stakeholders believe that the proposed PMDA is an attempt to tighten the government’s control over the media from one platform and ignores the fact that print, electronic and social media are separate entities, each with their own defined features.