A milestone legislation for journalists | By Muhammad Zahid Rifat

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A milestone legislation for journalists

WHEN both houses of Parliament, National Assembly and the Senate, pass a bill one after the other, it is sent to the President for his assent after which it becomes law of the land.

“Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill 2021” was something very special as it intended to promote, protect and effectively ensure the independence, impartiality, safety and freedom of expression of journalists and media professionals.

The bill was passed unanimously by both houses of Parliament in November 2021 and it was to be assented by President Dr Arif Alvi on December 1, 2021.

In view of its importance, as stated above, the President was joined by Federal Ministers Dr Shireen M. Mazari, Ch Fawwad Hussain, Minister of State Farrukh Habib and SAPM Dr Shehbaz Gill besides number of journalists and media professionals at the signing ceremony fully indicating the importance of the bill being assented to by the President.

Quite obviously, they all were gathered at the Presidency for the importance occasion as the bill emphatically focused on protecting lives of the journalists, hailing from fourth pillar of the State, Press, saving them from harassment, torture and ensuring their welfare by giving them facilities of life and health insurance.

After assenting the bill, President Dr Arif Alvi availing the opportunity said that he was indeed very happy to sign the historic bill, for the past about 70 years or so the journalists had been raising issues, mafias of all kinds resorting to killing, harassing and torturing them on the flimsiest personal accounts as they did not want their wrong doings and mistakes being exposed.

The President emphatically called for dire need for a culture of tolerance for the journalists, the new important law ensures protection of life to the journalists who by and large worked in hazardous conditions ensuring neutrality and faced threats to their lifes every and then.

The President maintained that following the act coming into force at force, the government as well as the media houses owners have now greater responsibility towards protecting the life of the journalists who now also enjoy the right not to disclose their source of information which was important for maintaining and ensuring freedom of expression, the media personnel have the responsibility to counter fake news, when there were fewer media organizations in the past everyone trusted all the news so being presented would be true but now in the age of social media it is painful to state that as much as 60 to 70 per cent of the news were fake.

Federal Information Minister Ch Fawad Hussain said that for the first time the working journalists in the country have been given the rights which are being enjoyed by the journalists in the advanced democracies around the world, freedoms so far were reserved only for the media tycoons and the working journalists were not getting the rights which they should be enjoying, the new law also provides much needed protection to the working journalists from the employers as well as the government officials and fully appreciated Dr Shireen M.Mazari for making tireless efforts for finalization and enactment of the new act.

In the statement of Objects and Reasons, Federal Human Rights Minister who piloted the historical legislation said “The Committee for the Protection of Journalists estimates that between 1992 and 2019, at least 61 journalists were killed in Pakistan.

In addition to acts of violence that result in the loss of lives of journalists and media professionals, there equally serious concerns pertaining to acts of intimidation, harassment and coercion of journalists not just in Pakistan but around the globe.

“In accordance with Pakistan’s Constitution, as well as its international legal commitments the State of Pakistan has a responsibility to secure the right to freedom of expression within its territory. The protection and promotion of the right to freedom of expression.

In fact, the International Federation of Journalists has emphasized “ the work of a free, independent and impartial press constitutes one of the basic foundations of a democratic society”.

“There is, therefore, an urgent need to ensure, accountability for all forms of threats, coercion and violence against journalists and media professionals.

Ensuring accountability in this regard has the additional objective of deterring/preventing future threats and/ or attacks against journalists and media professionals, by actively investigating, prosecuting and punishing such acts that effect all media professionals and the right of all persons to enjoy the right to freedom of opinion and expression”

Needless to mention here that it is the responsibility of the State to safeguard the right to freedom of expression, as contained in Article 19 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 as well as in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless, either orally, in writing or in print, in the for art, or through any other media.

Quite obviously, it is the requirement of any democratic society like Pakistan to instill a strong culture of society and independence of journalists duly taking into consideration attacks on journalists and media professionals.

The new legislation provides for the rights of journalists and professionals, training and insurance, investigation, establishment of an independent commission for the protection of journalists and media professionals and Journalists Welfare Scheme.

These aspects of the new important and historic legislation will be dealt with separately for want of space, please.

As a matter of fact, there is always room for improvement, betterment, addition and correction in any legislation when it is implemented after being assented to by the President.

Both the federal government and the journalists organizations should remain in constant contact with each other as the new legislation is implemented.

Irrespective of the all the good intentions and sincerity of purpose behind this legislation, shortcomings and deficiencies which may have remained somehow in the act only surface when he legislation like this implemented and these should be removed as and when noticed by any party through timely amendment of Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021 ensuring positive objectives and good intentions are not eroded in any manner. There will be more about this legislation other aspects in due course of time, please.

—The writer is Lahore-based Freelance Journalists, Columnist and retired Deputy Controller (News), Radio Pakistan, Islamabad.

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