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Pakistan’s Media Stakeholders Raise Concerns Over Proposed Defamation Law

Immigration News

Attempts to restrict the media in Pakistan are not new. The Pakistani government has introduced several laws over the years aimed at controlling the media, often under the guise of combating “disinformation” and “cybercrimes.”

Journalist organizations in Pakistan have expressed serious concern over the proposed Punjab Defamation Bill 2024, which has been described as a “dangerous law” in an editorial by the country’s widely circulated English daily, Dawn.

Media stakeholders in the country argue that the proposed bill appears draconian in its current form.

The Joint Action Committee (JAC), which includes journalist and media owner bodies such as the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND), has issued a joint statement expressing serious concern over amendments to the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and the federal government’s new defamation bill.

The Joint Action Committee stated that while media stakeholders are not against strengthening defamation laws or regulating digital media, the proposed law in its current form “threatens the fundamental right to freedom of expression,” according to a Dawn report.

“The media bodies are not against strengthening the defamation laws or regulating digital media, but the bill appears draconian in its current form and threatens the fundamental right to freedom of expression,” the statement read.

According to a report by Pakistan’s Aaj News, the JAC also called for ‘purposeful consultation’ with all stakeholders before the bill is enacted.

“The Joint Action Committee demands that the Punjab government and the Federal Government hold extensive discussions with media organizations and other stakeholders to thoroughly examine the implications of the proposed legislation on freedom of expression and postpone the passing of the bill in the assembly until then,” the statement said.

“The JAC believes that any legislation in this regard must strike a delicate balance between protecting individual rights and upholding the principles of freedom of expression,” the joint statement continued.

Expressing its commitment to ‘engaging constructively’ with the government on this matter, the JAC emphasized that it wants new digital media laws to be fair, just, and in line with democratic principles. Meanwhile, the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND), in a separate statement, rejected the draft defamation legislation.

In a statement quoted by Dawn, AEMEND stated that hurriedly adopting any law without consulting relevant stakeholders would be tantamount to throttling freedom of expression.

According to an editorial by Dawn, the new Punjab Defamation Bill 2024, which will replace the Defamation Ordinance 2002, goes even further than the dictatorship-era regulations laid out in the original law.

The Punjab Defamation Bill 2024, with its vague definition of defamation, higher financial penalties, and blanket restrictions on commenting on ongoing cases, seems to have been drafted with the purpose of intimidating those who may criticize or express frustrations at the current government, the Dawn editorial stated.

Dawn reported that the law has been finalized without seeking input from civil society, journalists’ unions, or the political opposition.

Meanwhile, the government of Pakistan recently launched a special cyber crime investigation unit, the National Cyber Crimes Investigation Agency (NCCIA), under the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, shifting the role from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

According to experts, the introduction of NCCIA poses fresh threats to journalists and activists in Pakistan. The PECA law, originally enacted to combat cybercrime such as cyber terrorism, unauthorized access, electronic fraud, and online harassment, and to enhance cybersecurity for users and businesses, is reportedly being used by the authorities to suppress dissent and curb freedom of the press and speech.

PECA is considered a draconian law with vague and overly broad offenses. It has been criticized by Pakistan’s human rights defenders and civil society organizations for criminalizing legitimate forms of expression based on national security concerns and protecting majoritarian interpretations of Islam, according to Amnesty International.

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