A safer place -
Pakistan Press Foundation

A safer place

Pakistan Press Foundation

Without the right to tell the whole story, journalism that challenges entrenched power may become a thing of the past. This is why the new bill tabled before the National Assembly to protect journalists in Pakistan – ranked by international media watchdog bodies as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists – is welcome. Sindh has also put forward a bill in its provincial assembly to keep journalists safe. The federal bill, which covers the whole of Pakistan, essentially gives journalists the right to be granted complete protection of security and life. In addition, their privacy or ability to keep sources private is to be protected and harassment or other acts of coercion are to be made punishable offences. A commission consisting of a chairperson with at least 20-year experience in law, justice and human rights sectors is to head this body, with representatives from the PFUJ and press clubs in all provinces of the country also forming a part of the body.

The bill also bars harassment or threats to journalists, and we assume this includes the enforced disappearances we have seen recently with a number of journalists ‘picked up’ not-so-mysteriously. In this context, the federal bill also says that the national security excuse cannot be used against journalists, when they file stories which are fair and backed by evidence. The Sindh law too contains similar measures and strongly protects the rights of journalists to avoid making the sources of information provided to them public in any fashion. Pakistan badly needs such laws in a time when journalists are facing more harassment than at any other time in the country’s history – with some saying it is reminiscent (or even worse) of the Zia era. The question however, as is always the case, is implementation of law and the question of real will behind it. Only if the will is there will the bills have any meanings. Otherwise, like other laws enforced in the country, they simply turn into pieces of paper with little real context in the lives of journalists, who today struggle to tell the stories they have, and must deal with a huge amount of self-censorship. The people have a right to know and denying them this only leads to more frustration, conspiracy theories and fake news.

There must also be the recognition and realization that passing such laws should also entail undoing other legislation and regulation that seeks to stifle a free press or act as a tool of censorship. We hope then that the draft bills will be turned into law and will be implemented fully across the country, as has been promised by the human rights ministry while also hoping that it is implemented and journalists are protected from censorship via unofficial directives, or through the power of the purse, or through violent intimidation.

The bill also bars harassment or threats to journalists, and we assume this includes the enforced disappearances we have seen recently with a number of journalists ‘picked up’ not-so-mysteriously. In this context, the federal bill also says that the national security excuse cannot be used against journalists, when they file stories which are fair and backed by evidence. The Sindh law too contains similar measures and strongly protects the rights of journalists to avoid making the sources of information provided to them public in any fashion. Pakistan badly needs such laws in a time when journalists are facing more harassment than at any other time in the country’s history – with some saying it is reminiscent (or even worse) of the Zia era. The question however, as is always the case, is implementation of law and the question of real will behind it. Only if the will is there will the bills have any meanings. Otherwise, like other laws enforced in the country, they simply turn into pieces of paper with little real context in the lives of journalists, who today struggle to tell the stories they have, and must deal with a huge amount of self-censorship. The people have a right to know and denying them this only leads to more frustration, conspiracy theories and fake news.

There must also be the recognition and realization that passing such laws should also entail undoing other legislation and regulation that seeks to stifle a free press or act as a tool of censorship. We hope then that the draft bills will be turned into law and will be implemented fully across the country, as has been promised by the human rights ministry while also hoping that it is implemented and journalists are protected from censorship via unofficial directives, or through the power of the purse, or through violent intimidation.

Newspaper: The News


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