Defamation law, press council approved
ISLAMABAD- The federal cabinet approved on August 31 the setting up of proposed press council, publication of press and periodicals registration ordinance and defamation ordinance 2002.
Giving details of the cabinet decisions at a news conference, Information Minister Nisar A. Memon said it was a long-awaited demand of the people that there must be certain defamation law to protect the honour and respect of the citizens. The proposed defamation ordinance, he added, provided that defamation would be actionable as a civil wrong both in the form of libel and slander.
He said the proposed ordinance would apply both on print and electronic media. “It is based on the principle that reputation of a member of society, the esteem in which he is held by it, the credit and trust it reposes in its intelligence, honour and integrity are valuable assets of a citizen and these must be safeguarded,” the ordinance says.
According to the defamation ordinance 2002, in case the defamation is proved to have occurred, the wrongdoer will be directed to tender an apology and publish the same in the same manner and in same prominence as the defamatory statement was made. Besides, he would have to pay the minimum compensation of Rs 50,000 and, in case of default in the payment of compensation, he would suffer simple imprisonment for three months.
“The authors, editors and all other persons responsible for the publication or circulation of defamatory material shall be liable under this ordinance. In the event of causing defamation, the aggrieved person may bring action against the wrongdoer by issuing a legal notice and thereafter filing the case in the court of district judge,” it says.
The ordinance says there was a long-awaited demand of the public for such a law so as to provide sufficient safeguard of their rights against the defamatory acts of slander and libel. This would also help in developing a sense of responsibility in the electronic and print media.
Nisar said the setting up of the press council and adherence to certain code of conduct was being materialized with the full support of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE).
The head of the press council, he pointed out, would be appointed by the President and would have three editors, three publishers and three working journalists. Also, all the four provincial governors would nominate one educationist each from their provinces to the press council. In addition, the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition would also appoint one nominee each to the proposed press council.
He told a reporter that the law for access to information would also be shortly introduced in the shape of an ordinance.
The information minister defended the establishment of press council, and said such councils exist in 50 countries of the world. The council, he went on to say, would be a voluntary body. The press council would be a self-regulatory body but would be funded by the government as had been requested by the APNS and the CPNE, he added.
He said newsmen would not be asked to reveal the source of their stories. “There will be a freedom of press but we believe that there must be a certain regulatory body in the shape of press council to ensure that nothing unfounded is published against any citizen,” he said.
He was asked why the working journalists were not taken into confidence before finalizing the defamation law and whether this law was meant to target reporters. “There were three representatives of the journalists who were consulted, therefore, you cannot say that we have not taken you into confidence,” Nisar replied. He said even the Council of Islamic Ideology and some lawyers organizations were consulted for defamation laws.