Journalists protest amendments in defamation law
ISLAMABAD – Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain on July 30 assured the journalists that the government would not pass the Defamation Ordinance 2002 (Amendment Act) 2004 without consulting them. He added that clause 4-A of the Act, which proposes strict action against the editor, publisher and reporter for a defamatory statement, would be amended.
Section 4A states that “in case of publishing a defamation statement, the publisher, editor, reporter and the distributor shall be severally and jointly liable to an action for defamation.” But the prime minister has said that this provision would be amended and made more lenient.
The journalists boycotted the proceedings of the National Assembly to protest the proposed amendment. Federal Minister for Water and Power Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Information Bilal Virk followed the journalists to the press lounge where they were told about the latter’s reservations. The journalists made it clear that they would not cover the proceedings of the NA until the government assured them that clause 4-A of the Defamation Ordinance 2002 (Amendment Act) 2004 was amended. They told the ministers and parliamentary secretary that journalists would not accept the five years long imprisonment sentence or the Rs 30,000 fine. Mr Sherpao said that when the prime minister took the allied parties into confidence over the bill, he (the prime minister) had assured the allies that the bill would not curb the freedom of press and would not affect the journalists. However, he said, he would talk to the prime minister and resolve the issue.
Later, while the NA session was continuing, the prime minister invited a delegation of journalist to his chamber in the parliament house. During the meeting he assured the journalists that this bill had been referred to the concerned Standing Committee and the government would amend this clause of the Defamation Ordinance 2002 (Amendment Act) 2004.
However, the journalists proposed that a reporter should only be called to the court as a witness in a defamation case rather than being accused of defamation himself or herself when all they had done was report some one’s defamatory statement. The prime minister said that the government would amend this clause and it would not pass the bill without the consensus of the journalists. He also assured the journalists that they would also be invited to the meeting of the standing committee when the bill was under discussion and their point of view would be taken into consideration. After these assurances, the journalists ended the boycott.
Source: Daily Times