ISLAMABAD (AP) — Hundreds of Pakistani journalists rallied outside parliament Monday to reject a proposed law that critics say would further curtail media freedom if passed.
The protest in the capital of Islamabad, also attended by senior opposition leaders and civil society members, asked the government to refrain from passing the “black law.” The legislation envisages the establishment of a new regulatory body called the Pakistan Media Development Authority.
“We reject PMDA. It is aimed at stifling the voice of media,” said Nasir Zaidi, a prominent leader of Pakistani journalists.
Another journalists union leader, Afzal Butt, vowed to continue protesting the proposed law, which he said Khan’s government was using to try and silence the media.
Shahbaz Sharif, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, vowed that opposition parties would do their best to block the legislation when the bill is moved into the National Assembly.
Critics say the proposed law would grant sweeping unchecked powers to the government-controlled regulator by setting up special media tribunals with the power to impose heavy fines on media organizations and journalists who violate a so-called code of conduct or publish content it deems to be “fake news.”
The legislation was introduced by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan in May. Since then, the government has not been able to move it through parliament because of opposition from the owners of news organizations and journalist unions.
Although Pakistan insists it supports freedom of speech, critics say the space for media freedom has shrunk in the Islamic nation, where incidents of attacks on journalists have increased since Khan’s government came into power in 2018.