Mehwish Qamas Khan
In late summer 2021, Pakistan’s beleaguered journalist community received some long-awaited good news. The legislative assembly in the country’s Sindh province acceded to pressing demands from journalists to establish an official safety mechanism and passed landmark legislation for the protection of media practitioners.
After that The much-awaited Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, aimed at protecting journalists and media professionals was finally tabled in the National Assembly and approved.
Both bills define the rights of journalists according to law. The law offer journalists and media professionals the right to carry out their work in conflict-hit areas within the country, without threat, intimidation, harassment, or fear of persecution or targeting. Under the bill, the government would take all possible steps to protect journalists and media professionals from all forms of abuse, violence, and exploitation at the hands of any person, institution (private or public), or authority.
National Assembly has passed the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, which was drafted and piloted by the Ministry of Human Rights. The bill provides for a formation of a commission that will inquire into complaints of threats, violent attacks, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and reports of torture of journalists. The law would provide measures to investigate, prosecute and punish those people involved in violence and threats against journalists. The bill was earlier approved by the Standing Committee on Human Rights and one hopes that the Senate will pass it as soon as possible.
Speaking about the bill, Shereen Rehman said she and her party believed in freedom of expression. She said she did not want to make the bill controversial and she wants that every journalist should read the bill and should know the rights the government has given to them. She added that it is considered that media in Pakistan is considered unsafe but she hopes that this bill will protect the journalists and help them to know their worth.
Talking to the member of PFUJ, Meanwhile, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) welcomed the bill presented in NA, but asked the federal government to grant more powers to the commission that would hear the complaints of media persons under the federal bill. They added that the commission should work for the rights of journalists and if anything happened in the future to any journalist the commission should act fastly and give accurate information to the media. They also said that every journalist now has the responsibility to work more with accuracy and should give accurate news through which they will not face any problem. PFUJ also praised the Harassment part Of the bill.
A journalist from Islamabad Maryam Sajjad said, that after all the criticism the government has finally given something to the journalist community and mentioned some good points about the bill, but Maryam said that there are some flaws in the Federal bill especially about the harassment where they have to complain to the commission in the 14 days if they feel any harassment in the workplace, she added that this is the biggest flaw. After all, when the woman is working somewhere so sometimes she can’t say anything about the harassment because she can’t lose her job, she demanded from the government that if the time was unlimited about the complaint then it could be great.
Aniqa, a member of PFUJ said, This is a result of our continuous struggle for such a law for journalists’ protection and freedom of the press,”. However, there are certain clauses of the bill that need to be improved or amended, the two leaders said, adding that the commission is not fully empowered. “For instance, freelance journalists may also be defined and apart from the inclusion of members of the PBC, HRCP, NCHR and other stakeholders should also be included in the commission and the commission should be empowered to summon government officials. In addition to that, the definition of journalist or media person should be clarified and broadened.”
The president signed the legislation at a ceremony attended by cabinet ministers and a large number of journalists and media professionals. The bill focused on protecting the lives of journalists, saving them from harassment and torture, and ensuring their welfare by giving facilities of life and health insurance.
The president said he was very happy to sign the historic bill. He said for the last 60-70 years, the journalists raised issues and after which mafias of all kinds killed, harassed, and tortured them.
The president underlined the need for a culture of tolerance for journalists because they were only doing reporting and disseminating information. As people did not want that their mistakes should be exposed they put pressure on the journalists, he noted.
The president said he came to know that a consensus was built among the stakeholders on the bill. Everybody was unanimous in protecting the rights of journalists, he stressed. The president said the debate on disclosure of the information would continue in society in the future as well. He said the Act gave journalists independence, adding the law also protected journalists against intolerant behavior, violence, and harassment.
Under the Act, the welfare of the journalists would be ensured and an independent media commission would be formed. The act would also take care of the protection of rights of the genders. He said fake news was an issue and Holy Quran also warned against fake news as it could create chaos and wars between the nations. After the signature of the president, the bill had become an Act of Parliament.
Earlier, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain in his remarks said the government would support the working journalists and would strive to protect their rights. Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari in her remarks said the new law was progressive and gave insurance of life and health to the journalists and media professionals. Meanwhile, the President of Pakistan has signed the following 31 bills passed by the Parliament.
Meanwhile, global media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) has condemned the inclusion of “an extremely vague section” in law on protecting journalists that were passed by the parliament earlier this month.
The RSF in a statement said that Section 6 of the law neutralizes virtually all the protection that it was supposed to provide.
“This section prohibits all journalists and media professionals from spreading ‘false information’ and producing material that ‘advocates hatred’ or constitutes ‘incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’ – without clearly defining what any of these terms mean,” RSF said in the statement.
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