ISLAMABAD – The Ministry of Information has suspended Assistant Director Saadullah Mahar following widespread criticism from journalistic circles over reports the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government is legislating new anti-press laws to curb freedom of expression.
The announcement comes a day after the country’s information and broadcasting minister said she would order an inquiry against the official responsible for going “behind her back” and ordering drafting of a controversial ordinance that apparently seeks to silence the print media.
On Sunday, Marriyum Aurangzeb said that she had nothing to do with the proposed Pakistan Print Media Regulatory Authority (PPMRA) Ordinance 2017, which was to be taken up by the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP) – the print media regulator – at its 15th general meeting (on Monday).
She further maintained that she was a supporter of press freedom and had worked tirelessly on right to information legislation, which this ordinance would nullify.
Rejecting the proposed law outright, the Press Council members earlier said they won’t allow the agenda item to be discussed at Monday’s meeting.
According to a notification issued from the information ministry on Monday, an enquiry committee has also been constituted over the proposed Ordinance. The enquiry committee is headed by External Publicity Wing Director General Shafqat Jalil.
The committee will send its findings to the information secretary within three days, the notification reads. Until then, two senior officials of the ministry, Nasir Jamal and Tahir Hussain, have been made the officers on special duty.
The notification further states that neither the minister nor the information secretary issued any directives for the formation of a law to regulate print media.
Meanwhile, the PCP also denied any such law existed. “No law over the subject mentioned in print media reports has ever been framed… the legislation process whenever undertaken by the federal government is initiated in consultation with the stakeholders,” according to a PCP statement issued on Sunday.
However, the journalist community has shared concerns with the government of not taking them into confidence before planning such a controversial law which aims to limit freedom of press.
The proposed law, first promulgated by former military dictator, General Ayub Khan, namely Press and Publications Ordinance 1964, “contravenes the provisions of 18th Amendment and will be completely rejected by APNS” Umer Mujib Shami, Secretary General of All Pakistan Newspaper Society, told Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in a meeting on Monday morning.
PM Abbasi categorically assured Mr Shami that his government was not contemplating any change in the present legal structure of Pakistan’s print media. “However, any law or amendment, if needed, will be undertaken in consultation with the APNS, CPNE, PFUJ and other stakeholders,” the PM told the APNS secretary general.