Government de-notifies 6,000 plus newspapers

While taking stern action, Pakistan’s Information Ministry has de-notified over 6,000 newspapers. Why did the government take such action? Will it increase tension between the government and media industry?

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Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Firdous Ashiq Awan has de-notified more than 6,000 newspapers which were identified as “dummy publications”, majority of whom were started only to secure government advertisements, reports emerged on Saturday.

According to the publication, the Office of Press Registrar of the Ministry of Information has given a deadline of April 15 to all presses, printing newspapers, to fulfil all regulatory requirements.

It is important to note that Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday constituted a five-member committee for the protection of media workers and the media industry.

The decision to form the committee was taken after Pakistan Broadcasters Association wrote a letter to the prime minister.

Senior aides of the prime minister which include Firdous Ashiq Awan, Shahzad Akbar, and Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood are members of the committee. The other two members of the committee comprise Shahbaz Gill and the federal information secretary.

Read more: Is Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman using international lobbies to pressurize Pakistani courts?

The committee will be responsible to review the recommendations put forth by the PBA and resolve the association’s issues.

It also merits a mention here that Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan had acknowledged in the Senate Standing Committee on Information that officers of her ministry were involved in disseminating advertisements to dummy publications of their choice.

“There are around 4,200 dailies and weeklies across the country registered with the Press Information Department (PID), having a circulation of around 20 million, whereas the total number was much higher if all regional dailies and weeklies were counted,” she said.

After examination of documents, the Office of Press Registrar has decided to update the list of printing presses operating across the country.

The initial report shows that there is not a single printing press registered in Multan division, whereas there are more than 110 dailies and weeklies being published from there

An official of the information ministry said there were two categories of dummy papers. The first one includes those who obtain a title of a paper and hold it to negotiate with some potential investor but do not go for the printing of the paper. The second category of dummy papers includes those publications that are printed only after getting advertisements and show dubious circulation figures.

“The best way to check such publications was streamlining their printing press, and the recent move has shown that some presses print a large number of papers but physical inspection showed that they do not even have such a capacity,” the official added.

The Press Registrar has already written letters to all deputy commissioners across the country to forward information related to presses where newspapers were being printed, under the “Press, Newspaper, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance, 2002”.

Since the subject has not been devolved, the law prevails across the country and the Press Registrar has also sought details of printing presses and in the first phase of regulatory requirements of those presses where newspapers are printed would be updated.

Read more: Does PTI really believe in freedom of expression?

“As per the law, all newspaper owners and publishers have to be registered; a newspaper has to tell the registration authority the name and address of printing press where the publication is printed,” the ministry official said, adding: “The initial report shows that there is not a single printing press registered in Multan division, whereas there are more than 110 dailies and weeklies being published from there.” This raises some serious questions which need to be investigated at length to determine who controls such dailies and weeklies and for whom?

Experts and commentators believe that this is a step in the right direction as it will help the government ensure transparency as to who gets money under the cover of advertisement. Importantly, the ruling party had promised before coming into power that it would ensure free media without controlling it in any way.

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