Journalists raise objection to draft Elections Bill 2017
ISLAMABAD: Senior journalists, anchors, columnists and union leaders on Monday expressed serious reservation about the clauses of draft Elections Bill 2017, to be tabled in Parliament on January 19, which leads to excessive restrictions on access to information for media.
They termed the respective clauses against Article 19 of the Constitution which identifies freedom of expression as basic right and demanded of the government to review the draft Bill while engaging media as a stakeholder before presenting it in Parliament. They said if passed in the current form, the legislation would make it very difficult for media persons to cover elections and to play due role in ensuring transparency and accountability in the election process.
The meeting, called by President Press Club Shakeel Anjum and briefed by Free and Fair Elections Network Executive Director Muddasir Rizvi, had a consensus to initiate a nationwide movement against the controversial clauses if the bill was passed without including feedback from the media. The participants also suggested to stage walkouts of Parliament and forming a committee to negotiate with the parliamentarians and political leaders on this issue.
They said that Section 194 – Information not be divulged – of the draft bill, “seems to suggest a complete ban on access to information”. Under this section, an employee of the Election Commission of Pakistan “shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with fine which may extend to five million rupees or with both” if he “publishes or communicates to any person, any information or data acquired by him in the course of such employment without being authorised by the Commission.” They were of the opinion that this provision excessively restricted access to information to the media and other stakeholders.
Besides that, it was discussed that Section 61(2) of the draft Bill appeared to suggest that media, voters, independent observers and the general public would be barred from the process of scrutiny of candidates’ nomination papers. It was noted with concern that the law also seemed to be silent on providing media and others access to polling stations. The media persons demanded that the law must specify that accreditation would be provided for media to observe the polling process.
Some prominent names who attended the meeting included President National Press Club (NPC) Shakeel Anjum, NPC General Secretary Imran Dhaloon, President Rawalpindi Islamabad Union of Journalists Ali Raza Alvi, former president Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists Afzal Butt, Hamid Mir, Asma Shirazi, Rauf Klasra, Waheed Hussain, Aslam Khan, Ahmed Mukhtar, Muhsin Raza Khan, Mateen Haider, Auon Sahi, Fauzia Shahid, C R Shamsi and Khalid Javed.