Bill for Journalists
Pakistan – being one of the most dangerous and unsafe countries for journalists in the world – needs effective and strong legislation to protect media professionals. In welcome news, our lawmakers have taken a positive step in the shape of the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill 2021, with the Ministry of Human Rights drafting the bill which inter alia stipulates a commission that will have the authority and power to initiate investigations if any journalist or media professional files a complaint of arbitrary arrest or attacks. The commission will also look into cases of forced disappearances and reports of threats and torture of journalists. Keeping in view the dire circumstances in which journalists in Pakistan have been working, there was an urgent need for a law that could open venues for redress for victims of such crimes. The law comes at a time when international watchdog bodies as well as local ones have expressed growing concern over the harassment and even the death of journalists and media professionals while performing their professional duties. According to a Unesco list, which keeps track of the situation in various countries, three journalists have been killed in Pakistan in 2021 alone. In this situation, there is an urgent need to offer greater protection to journalists, and the new law aims to provide the journalist community with new succour of investigation and prosecution so that perpetrators face due punishment.
With several entities comprising journalists’ representatives having had the opportunity to go through the bill and scrutinise its text, it is hoped the law is indeed upheld and that the government can ensure that this happens. This is difficult at a time when the harassment and threatening of journalists has become more and more common with reports emerging virtually every week. Media freedoms increasingly have come under threat, stifling nearly all modes of expression. For a country such as Pakistan which has experienced rapidly declining safety measures for journalists, such laws are significant as they can expand the working space for media professionals.
At the same time, there is also a dire need to reduce curbs on the media which come every now and then as the government and entities working under it introduce new restrictions under various guises. This is true for all media – electronic, print, and social. If the mainstream media comes under threat from both non-state and state actors, social media is threatened by undue regulations. The government must make sure that the recently enacted law is enforced in letter and spirit. It should not retry to introduce any new media authority – under whatever name it may come. In the 21st century, no draconian authorities can survive for long and such attempts will put the government and the information ministry in a negative spot. Editorial independence of media houses is a given right and not a privilege or a favour in any way.
Source: The News (Editorial)