ISLAMABAD: Key media stakeholders have urged Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to urgently fulfill his pending promise of operationalizing the Federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, passed in 2021, to allow journalists to combat impunity of crimes against them.
This appeal came in a meeting of the federal chapter of the Pakistan Journalists Safety Coalition (PJSC), a grouping of journalist representative bodies, national and international media watchdogs, human rights commissions, digital rights groups, human rights advocates, and political parties, among others, in a meeting held in Islamabad on June 15, 2023.
PJSC successfully influenced the process of the passage of the federal and Sindh legislation, both of which made Pakistan the first country in the world to specifically legislate on the safety of journalists inspired by the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and Issues of Impunity. The PJSC is currently working with the Sindh Commission for the Protection of Journalists and Other Media Professionals.
The PJSC meeting also expressed concern at the ongoing wave of intimidation against journalists in the country and repeated attempts by both the previous and present governments to make media and free speech-related laws and regulations more draconian.
The meeting pointed out that dozens of journalists have been arrested, kidnapped, assaulted, and injured since the passage of the Federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, passed in 2021, but were not able to benefit from it in the absence of a safety commission. It noted that both the Imran Khan and Shahbaz Sharif governments have failed to notify a commission and appoint a chairperson to operationalize the law.
It unanimously passed a resolution demanding the following from the federal government:
1. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif must fulfill the promise he made at an international conference in Islamabad in December 2022 to formally operationalize the Federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021, by urgently notifying the federal safety commission for journalists. The law was enacted 19 months ago – its non-operationalization continues to mock the extraordinary parliamentary consensus from all major parties that passed it, including PML-N, PPP, PTI, JUI, ANP, MQM, PML-Q, BAP, and others, and allows impunity of crimes against journalists to perpetuate itself, particularly in Islamabad.
2. The federal government must, as promised, start the process of removing Section 6 from the Federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021, which makes it mandatory for journalists to prove their “good faith and intent” if their journalism is challenged and before they can benefit from the law. Section 6 effectively nullifies the spirit of the otherwise excellent law. This “pre-qualification” clause must be removed from the law.
3. The federal government and its subordinate institutions must stop branding of journalists as traitors and enemies of the state and desist from invoking colonial-era laws and concepts in dealing with dissent and debate within the media landscape. This is having a chilling effect on Articles 19 and 19A of the constitution and undermining the fourth pillar of the state and will worsen Pakistan’s already precariously poor rankings on global media freedom indexes.
4. The federal government must stop efforts to bring in any proposed regulations or legislation aimed at curbing freedom of expression and access to information and no changes in laws and rules and regulations related to free speech, including online freedom of expression, must be made without broad-based consultations with all key relevant stakeholders.
5. All existing adversarial cases against journalists must be immediately withdrawn, allowing them due process of law, and journalist Imran Riaz, who has been missing for several weeks, must be produced before a court of law to allow him to defend himself by the law. No journalist should be arrested.
Among others, the meeting was attended by PJSC Federal Chapter Chairperson Hamid Mir, Chairperson of Parliamentary Commission for Human Rights Chaudhry Shafique, National Press Club representative Saeed Ahmed, Women Journalists Association representative Myra Imran, Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan representative Adnan Aamir, Alliance for Diversity and Pluralism representative Muhammad Aftab Alam, Freedom Network Executive Director Iqbal Khattak and International Media Support representative Adnan Rehmat.
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