Govt prepares bill to protect journalists
ISLAMABAD: The government shall ensure that every journalist and media professional’s right to life and security as enshrined in Article 9 of the constitution and will take appropriate action if such an individual is subjected to ill-treatment, said a bill tabled by Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari in the National Assembly.
According to ‘Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2020’, in order to maintain the independence, impartiality and freedom of journalists and media professionals, the government shall take steps to ensure that existing or future counter-terrorism or national security laws are not utilized arbitrarily to hinder the work and safety of journalists and media professionals, including through arbitrary arrest or detention, or the threat thereof.
She recommended that the federal government shall constitute an independent commission to be known as the Commission for the Protection of Journalist and Media Professionals (CPJMP) to exercise the powers and perform the functions under this Act.
The commission shall consist of a chairperson, who has been a Judge of the Supreme Court, and has a demonstrable knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to law, justice and human rights; four members nominated by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), one member from each Province of Pakistan; one member who is a representative of the National Press Club (NPC), as nominated by NPC; and One representative of the Ministry of Human Rights, as nominated by Ministry of Human Rights (ex officio).
The bill reads that the commission shall be deemed to be a civil court to the extent that is described in sections 175, 178, 179, 180 and 228 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 (Act XLV of 1860). If any of the offences listed above are committed in the view or presence of the commission, the commission shall, after recording the facts constituting the offence and the statement of the accused as provided for in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (Act V of 1898), forward the case to a Magistrate having jurisdiction to try the same and the Magistrate to whom any such case is forwarded shall proceed to hear the complaint against the accused as if the case has been forwarded to him under section 346 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (Act V of 1898).
It was stated that no person or institution, whether private or public, shall engage in any activity that violates the right to life and security of any journalist or media professional. She stated that the government shall ensure that effective measures are taken to protect journalists and media professionals against forced or involuntary disappearances, kidnapping, abduction or other methods of coercion, besides ensuring that journalists and media professionals are allowed to carry out their journalistic work in conflict-affected areas within the country, without threats, intimidation, harassment or fear of persecution or targeting.
If the commission finds that any institution or organization is, directly or indirectly, involved in violating, or attempting to violate, the rights to life and protection against ill-treatment safeguarded in subsection (1) above, it shall report the same to the federal government and recommend appropriate course of action against the perpetrator(s) of these violations.
Each journalist and media professional shall have the right to privacy, which includes the protection of the law against interference with his/her home, correspondence and family. She further stated that the government shall ensure that its laws, policies and practices respect the right to privacy of journalists and media professionals and that these laws, policies and practices do not force, induce, compel, coerce or threaten the disclosure of sources.
Mazari said that the confidentiality of sources, of journalists or media professionals, shall be safeguarded by the Government, in law and in practice and no journalist or media professional shall be subjected to any unlawful or arbitrary restrictions on their ability to perform their work independently, and without undue interference. She stated that any restriction on the right to freedom of expression of journalists or media professionals must be provided by law, and must only be imposed if it is necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others. However, it was stated that no journalist or media professional shall engage in the dissemination of material known by such an individual to be false or untrue.
It is responsibility of the government shall take all steps to protect journalists and media professionals from all forms of abuse, violence and exploitation at the hands of any person, institution (private or public) or authority and whenever any act of abuse, violence or intolerant behaviour is committed against any journalist, reporter or media professional, whether perpetrated by a private or public person, institution or authority, information concerning such act shall be, within a period of fourteen days, the aggrieved journalist or media professional shall file a complaint against the same before the commission created under section 12 of the Act.
Upon receipt of information identified in Section 7(2) of this Act, the commission shall, within a period of fourteen days, take all necessary actions to investigate and prosecute such acts of abuse, violence or intolerant behaviour, and to take appropriate measures under law. The bill reads, “The provision of adequate training and guarantee of insurance will be governed in accordance with this provision, under the “Journalists Welfare Scheme”.
Compliance with the requirements of the scheme, established pursuant to subsection (1) of Section 9 of this Act, shall be the responsibility of each media owner. The operation of the Journalists Welfare Scheme shall be governed under Schedule I of this Act and the Journalists Welfare Scheme requires each Media Owner to produce a comprehensive, written safety policy and protocols for journalists and media professionals.
It was further stated that where any person acts in a threatening, coercive, abusive or violent manner, or conspires to act in a threatening, coercive, abusive or violent manner, or aids and abets a threatening, coercive, abusive or violent act with the intent to undermine the integrity and independence of journalists and media professionals, such acts may be reported to the commission. The commission shall take appropriate steps to ensure accountability for such acts by conducting impartial, prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigations into all such reports, it added.