ISLAMABAD Sep 12: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar on Monday asked for an inquiry into the draft of anti-print media ordinance and claimed it had been secretly drafted in the darkness of the night, behind the back of parliament and stakeholders to stifle newspapers through unprecedented coercive measures.
The pressing issue of sky-rocketing prices of onion echoed in the House, as two senators belonging to Balochistan Mir Kabir Shahi and Kulsum Parveen, said that the onion produce in the province was ready but the government was not procuring the crop from farmers.
They pointed out that this was happening at a time when the country was already facing a severe shortage of onion and the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet was set to meet in a few days in this connection.
Senator Kulsoom of PML-N warned that if the government decided to import onions, the people of Balochistan would be left with no other option but to throw the entire onion crop into the sea in protest.
On this, Senator Muzaffar Hussain Shah of PML-Functional, who was presiding over the session at that time, sought a reply, saying if the crop was ready in the province, why government was considering onion import.
On a point of public importance in the House and waving a copy of the ordinance, Babar contended that Pakistan Print Media Regulatory Authority (PPMRA) Ordinance was a throwback to the notorious 1963 Press and Publications Ordinance of Ayub era that muzzled the newspapers in the name of national interest for over three decades.
The ordinance, he noted, proposes to set up a new authority with functions to prepare new guidelines for the issuance of declarations and powers to reviews the declarations annually and even revoke them if the newspaper was found to violate the authority’s rules and arbitrary guidelines. Raids and punishment to journalists and publishers are also envisaged in the ordinance.
The proposed authority will be bound to follow instructions of the government in policy matters. It will devise a code of conduct that will be binding on newspapers. “One of the functions of the Authority is to make the newspapers more responsive to issues of concern to the state and society. Thus the authority and not newspaper editors or journalists will decide on ‘issues of concern to state and society’, he pointed out.
Babar emphasised that this was unacceptable and asked that the move be immediately reversed. He challenged the assertion that state minister for information and broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb was unaware of the development and read out from a recent letter of the Ministry of Information addressed to the chairman Press Council of Pakistan.
It stated, “It is stated that the Minister of State for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage during the presentation on March 3, 2017 given to her on the above noted subject advised PCP Management to enrich and improve the draft of Pakistan Print Media regulatory Authority (PPMRA) Ordinance on the pattern of PEMRA (Amendment ) Act 2007″. “Marriyum Aurangzeb is an honourable lady and may be saying the truth that she is unaware but one thing is undeniable; someone in the Ministry has used her name to secretly promulgate a sinister anti-newspaper Ordinance”, he said. He then gave copy of the draft Ordinance and Ministry’s letter to PCP to Senate Secretariat to get the matter investigated.
On another point of public importance, he raised the issue of forcible eviction of some poor residents by the Cantonment Board authorities in Loralai in Balochistan on the ground of ‘bad reputation’. He said that four of the victims had travelled all the way from Loralai and were sitting in the lobby of the senate to petition the upper house.
Babar recalled that the matter had previously been taken up by the defence committee of the senate which questioned powers of cantonment board to evict residents who regularly paid the rent. The declaration of ‘bad character’ could only be made by the courts and even in that case a resident may be punished under the law but not evicted from the quarter.
He said that the courts had also exonerated the evicted residents of the charges but they were still not allowed to return to their homes which had been locked by the authorities, he said. By this high handedness we are only alienating the people and forcing them to take to the hills and become militants, he warned and called upon the authorities to reconsider the decision to evict them.