ISLAMABAD - Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Syed Shibli Faraz Monday in the Senate blamed the opposition for violating Article 19 of the Constitution in its Quetta rally that was held under the banner of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). 

He made these remarks after the opposition objected over a private member’s bill that sought to give more powers to the PEMRA, the regulator of private TV channels, and accused the government of suppressing the freedom of expression and press in the country.

Article 19 of the Constitution reads that “every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the Press, subject to any ‘reasonable restriction’, imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan…”

With the opposition staged a token walkout from the house over the remarks, the information minister also accused PPP stalwart and former Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani what he said Rabbani believed in “selective constitutionalism.” “I was expecting from them (opposition) to talk (in the house) about the blatant violation of Article 19 that they (opposition) have committed in the rally,” he said adding that opposition PPP was also part of that 11-party opposition alliance called as PDM.  

“I request Rabbani to have moral courage, have the heart, and have the strength to listen to the answer,” Shibli said when the opposition staged a walkout amid slogans of “shame, shame” raised by treasury members.

Information Minister says PPP leader Mian Raza Rabbani believes in selective constitutionalism

Earlier, Rabbani while speaking on the proposed Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, said that he did not doubt the intention of PTI Senator Faisal Javed, the mover of the bill, as the proposed legislation seeks protection and job security of the working TV journalists. “But PEMRA has a record of stifling the truth,” he said adding that authority would misuse the law.

“Why are you empowering PEMRA to have its more say and reach into private organizations?” questioned Senator Sherry Rehman, the Parliamentary Leader of PPP in the House.

PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rashid also opposed the bill saying that they should not give such tools in the hands of government authorities that cause to put down the freedom of expression. 

Senator Faisal, Chairman of Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting, explained that the bill doesn’t attack or suppress the freedom of press but it will ensure the “signing, renewal and extension of valid contracts” between the employers and TV journalists.

He said that the law would ensure protection of jobs and wages of the working journalists and PEMRA being the licensing authority of TV channels should be given this oversight role on the pattern of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the regulator of banks. 

Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani adjourned the house due to lack of quorum that was pointed out by an opposition lawmaker following the protest walkout.