The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and journalists for press freedom, today expressed its support for protests launched by journalists in Pakistan against the Pakis­tan Media Development Autho­rity (PMDA) legislation and urged the government to withdraw it.

Journalists in Pakistan launched a sit-in protest outside the Parliament in the capital Islamabad demanding that the government withdraw the controversial PMDA bill. IPI previously warned that the law, which would expand government regulatory oversight over the media, would severely undermine press freedom in the country.

The demonstrators gathered outside the national press club and marched to the parliament building on September 12 to stage an overnight protest ahead of the inauguration of the joint session of parliament. The protest has been organized by several journalists’ groups, led by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

Journalists and media organizations in Pakistan have vehemently criticized the government’s plans to repeal all existing media laws and replace them with the PMDA ordinance, which would create a media regulatory body, the PMDA, that lacks safeguards for independence. While the PMDA will have authority to shut down media organizations, the ordinance also provides for establishment of media tribunals with the power to impose punishments of up to three years’ imprisonment and a financial penalty on content producers for violating provisions in the ordinance. It also foresees a licensing and regulatory scheme for digital media.

“The IPI global network stands in solidarity with journalists in Pakistan protesting against the draconian PMDA legislation, which would gravely weaken press freedom in Pakistan,” IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The PMDA bill would expand state control over media and therefore undermine the watchdog role that the press must play in any democracy. IPI urgently repeats its call on the Pakistani government and lawmakers to reject this bill. If regulatory changes are needed, they must be developed in close cooperation with media representatives and civil society and must reflect international standards on freedom of expression.”

In June, IPI had written an open letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan urging him to withdraw the proposed bill.

Underscoring the importance of press freedom in Pakistan, IPI called on the prime minister not to implement the ordinance. “Your excellency, we urge you to reconsider the decision of the government to promulgate the PMDA ordinance and withdraw it immediately, as it will have a devastating impact on a free media in a democracy that Pakistan promises to be,” IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said in the letter.