Media concerns to be accommodated: PM -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Media concerns to be accommodated: PM

ISLAMABAD – Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain on July 30 said the amendments to the defamation law would be made after discussion with journalists, assuring them that their concerns would be accommodated.

The prime minister was talking to reporters in his chamber after they boycotted the National Assembly proceedings in protest against the changes in the defamation law. The prime minister said that the government had no intention to restrict freedom of the press through the bill. He said it was being brought only against the politicians busy in politics of “accusations” without any proof.

Over 100 journalists boycotted the proceedings of National Assembly. They came out of the Press Gallery and refused to return to the House. Minister for Water and Power Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and Bilal Ijaz, Parliamentary Secretary for Information, came to talk to journalists. Afterwards, the prime minister invited journalists to his chambers.

Journalists gave him a comprehensive briefing about their concerns and fears, saying when a defamation law, introduced by the Musharraf government, existed, why more stringent laws were being brought to harass media. He was told that though he had announced that media would not be targeted in the new draft bill, it clearly mentioned editor, publishers, reporters, owners and distributors as responsible for publishing any statements containing defamation.

Likewise, the PM was briefed that sentence for defaming has been increased from earlier 90 days to five to seven years and the fine from Rs 25,000 to Rs 100,000. He was also told that under new draft bill, defamation had been declared a “criminal offence” and proceedings would start under the Pakistan Panel Code.

He was also conveyed concern over the use of objectionable language in the bill. He was told the Law Ministry had even equated the defamation to “murder and eating of flesh of someone’s brother”. It was felt that the purpose was to stop journalists from reporting acts of “public figures” using the public money.

The prime minister said he was ready to accommodate journalists’ concerns in the bill. At one point, it also suggested that the reporters should be taken out of the bill but not editors, publishers, owners, and distributors. However, this was not accepted by the negotiating team as they thought this would further put pressure on media.

The prime minister proposed that journalists should attend a meeting of the standing committee on law and justice that would examine the bill’s contents. However, he was asked to repeal the bill.

The journalists also offered that a reporter could only be asked to testify a particularly published statement of someone facing defamation proceedings. Media person should not be made party as it has been done in the draft bill. After a firm assurance from the PM, journalists ended their boycott.

APP adds: The prime minister said in the past, no effective measures were taken to discourage the trend of hurling allegations. He said normally it takes 10 to 15 years to have a decision in a defamation case. “We have fixed a restriction of 90 days for a decision.” He said in addition to civil courts, the session courts would also be hearing such cases. The high courts and the Supreme Court could be approached for right to appeal against such decisions.

About section (3) of the bill in which the publisher, editor, reporter and the distributors have been proposed to be held responsible for defamation, the prime minister said the government would discuss this matter with journalists and in the light of their proposals this would be improved.

He assured journalists that the bill would not be tabled in the House till a consensus is reached. He also endorsed demand of journalists that any person who levels allegation against anybody must prove his assertions and the reporter concerned should also be a witness in such a case.
Source: The News
Date:7/31/2004