Legislators urged to adopt changes in press laws
RAWALPINDI, Jan 2: After extensive consultations and discussions, delegates attending the national conference on “Right to know and freedom of expression” here on Friday suggested several amendments to laws regulating the print and electronic media and called upon the parliamentarians to adopt these changes.
The conference was organised by the Islamabad chapter of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) in collaboration with Hanns Seidel Foundation and Norad, a Norwegian development agency.
A press release issued by SAFMA said the proposed amendments in the six laws – The Freedom of Information Ordinance; The Press, Newspapers, News Agency and Book Registration Ordinance; The Defamation Ordinance; The Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance; The Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance and The Associated Press of Pakistan Corporation Ordinance – in consultation with the parliamentary parties, would be presented as private bills before the two houses of the parliament to amend the existing ordinances.
“The expectations that the process of restoration of institutions of democratic governance should lead to enhanced respect for the peoples’ fundamental human rights and freedoms, including the right to know and freedom of expression, have not been realized” the National Media Declaration adopted unanimously by the conference said.
The Declaration also suggested to SAFMA to create a joint media-parliamentarians body to get these draft amendments to the six new ordinances passed as an act of the parliament.
Around 130 delegates representing the print and electronic media, parliamentarians, intellectuals, retired judges of superior judiciary, academicians and human rights activists from all over the country participated in the conference, held as a premiere to the three-day SAFMA International Conference opening on Saturday on the sidelines of the Saarc Summit.
Prominent among those who attended the conference included Prof Khawaja Masud, I.A. Rehman, Asma Jehangir, Munoo Bhai, Hussain Naqi, Shafqat Mahmood, Dr Jabbar Khattak, Afzal Khan, M.B. Naqvi, Supreme Court Bar Association President Justice Tariq Mahmood (retired), PML-N’s Tehmina Daultana, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar, M.A.K. Lodhi, Altaf Hassan Qureshi, Ayaz Amir, Sherry Rehman, Mujibur Rehman Shami and Dr Andreas Rieck, resident representative of Hanns Seidel Foundation.
Information Secretary Anwar Mahmood also addressed the opening session and assured his cooperation to SAFMA. The declaration noted that instead of providing access to free information, a series of new ordinances related to the media were issued in the recent past.
These ordinances “betray lack of comprehension of the essential attributes of freedom of expression, constitute an attempt to abridge the concept of transparency and represent a substantial deviation from the spirit of the 1973 constitution,” the declaration observed.
“The new media laws being arbitrary lack legitimate sanction; some of these laws have been issued after a general election when a new parliament was about to meet and are liable to rejection on this ground alone.”
It said the Freedom of Information Ordinance, instead of removing the flaws and deficiencies in the earlier drafts, makes access to information difficult. Similarly, the declaration observed, the Press, Newspapers, News Agency and Book Registration Ordinance was a rehash of the infamous Press and Publication Ordinance and retains the authoritarian regimes practice of treating a declaration as a licence and fails to free the media of the constraints against which all sections of the media community had been agitating for decades.
It said the Defamation Ordinance constituted an unnecessary innovation in as much as it is a special law targeting media persons while similar laws already exist.
The Declaration said the Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance was an example of the executive misappropriating the idea of an autonomous self-regulating body within the media community. It said the fees for complaints were unnecessary and exorbitant and the punitive power of the Council was too excessive.
Similarly, suggesting changes in the Media Regulatory Ordinance, it termed the said piece of law as “arbitrary and in violation of the international standards for a free flow of information” the obligation imposed on private channels to telecast programmes mandated by the Authority appears to be a device to commission them for official propaganda.”
It said the ordinance was also silent on the decades old and persistent public demand for freeing PBC and PTVC of official control and shows little respect or concern for views, needs and tastes of Pakistan’s pluralist society.
JOURNALISTS SUMMIT: The three-day journalists summit is opening on Saturday to propose two protocols on the free movement of journalists and free flow of information in the Saarc countries.
Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha would deliver a keynote address at the evening session. Foreign ministers of Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan besides Saarc Secretary General Q.A.M.A, Rahim are also likely to speak at the conference during the evening session.