In a major development, Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry announced on Wednesday that the PTI-led government is ready to withdraw the controversial Pakistan Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Act ordinance 2022 (PECA).
Speaking to a private news channel, the minister said that in this regard, the government has handed over the mandate to Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.
“If the media Joint Action Committee (JAC) could get its proposal approved, the government would also accept the recommendations,” he said.
Earlier today — following the footsteps of the former Lahore High Court bar president — different journalist associations of Pakistan had also challenged the recently promulgated PECA law in the Islamabad High Court.
The challenged law has triggered protests from media bodies and civil society who have termed it a “draconian law”.
The journalist associations, including Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND), and some senior journalists of the country, have filed the petition through senior lawyer Munir A Malik.
The petitioners have maintained in the plea that Sections 2 and 3 of the presidential ordinance are contradictory to Articles 4, 9, 19, 19A and 89 of the Constitution of Pakistan which gives its citizens the right to know.
“The ordinance would become a source of promoting self-censorship […] President of Pakistan must have a valid reason to promulgate ordinances,” they stated in the plea.
The federal government through the Cabinet secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication and Ministry of Law and Justice have been made parties in the plea that moves the high court to nullify the PECA ordinance.
Pervaiz Elahi demands withdrawal of amendment to PECA ordinance
On Tuesday, JAC members had called on Elahi at the assembly chambers to discuss their reservations regarding the PECA law.
Fully supporting the demands of the JAC, Elahi had demanded immediate withdrawal of amendment to the PECA Ordinance, The News reported.
He said the PECA Ordinance is the government’s “selective treatment of the journalist community and the people of Pakistan.”
“Media is the fourth pillar of the state, we fully believe in its freedom, he said, adding that media freedom is very essential for a country’s progress.”
Elahi had added that “imposing any restriction on the freedom of the media is not in our own interest,” adding that “we have always worked for freedom of the media and welfare of its workers.”
He said during PML-Q government tenure, record numbers of electronic media licences were issued and the government also accepted criticism of the media with an open heart.
Joint Action Committee rejects ‘draconian PECA amendments’
After President Arif Alvi signed two ordinances making changes in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, (PECA) 2016, and the Elections Act, 2017, on February 18, the Media Joint Action Committee (JAC) issued a statement to reject the “draconian amendments.”
The JAC, comprising PBA, APNS, CPNE, AEMEND, and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), said that the amendments brought by the PTI-led government to PECA are a “blatant move to stifle media independence, freedom of speech, and dissenting voices.”
The statement said that all media bodies will “take any and all legal actions to challenge any attempt to curb media’s independence and its right to raise voice against any steps to curb freedom of expression as guaranteed in the constitution.”
The JAC will, if needed, oppose all such moves with the “full might of its constituent bodies and individual members.”