Senate panel to take up bill on journalists’ safety
ISLAMABAD: A Senate committee will take up on Monday (tomorrow) a four-year-old bill, aimed at providing protection and relief to journalists, but also containing a controversial clause about disclosure of source of information.
The Journalists Protection and Welfare Bill 2011, suggesting steps to be taken by the government to provide social benefits and protection to journalists, was introduced in the upper house jointly by 22 opposition members of that time on Oct 31, 2011.
Of the 22 movers, 15 have retired after completing their six-year term as senator.
A controversial clause of the draft law says: “Journalists shall not be compelled to disclose their source and, if circumstances occur and matters of national security importance are involved where disclosure of source is demanded, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has the right to ask about the source but it would not make it public.”
During a hearing of the inquiry commission probing allegations of rigging in the 2013 general elections, renowned lawyer Abdul Hafiz Pirzada had been stopped by the judges from pressing a senior journalist for disclosing the source of information of one of his reports.
When contacted, president of his faction of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Afzal Butt, expressed surprise over the inclusion of the clause in the bill.
Mr Butt, who has also been invited by the committee to the Monday’s meeting, said under the security situation prevailing in the country, journalists did require a law to provide them protection.
But, he added, the bill should remain confined to its basic objectives and should not touch the controversial and already settled matters.
He said he would raise the issue during the meeting and ask the committee to remove the controversial clause from the draft.
Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq said during a meeting of the business advisory committee of the Senate on Sept 14, they had decided to take up the bill, which had been lying dormant for more than four years.
Asked about the reason for the delay, he said the bill had been moved at a time when Senate elections were only four months away. But he could not give any explanation to why the bill could not be taken up by the house or its committee over the next three years.
Mushahidullah Khan, the chairman if the sub-committee, said he would invite all stakeholders, including journalists and owners of media organisations, to meetings of the panel before it finalised recommendations on the bill.
The bill suggests a number of steps to be taken by the government to facilitate journalists during performance of their duty, which actually should be the responsibility of the media organisations.
“Journalists reporting as a beat reporter in any department (federal or provincial) shall be assisted with transport facility,” says the draft. “The federal government shall not charge any parking fee from journalists.”
The draft says: “In case of a calamity, eruption of fire, accident or natural disaster, the federal government shall provide special jackets and other facilities such as water, food and fuel to journalists during coverage.”
Under the proposed law, journalists and members of their family will be entitled to free treatment at government hospitals. “In case of emergency medical treatment to journalists i.e. accidents, calamities and emergencies, the district health officer or tehsil health officer… shall be primarily responsible for such treatment,” it says.
It states: “In case a journalist feels threatened and needs protection at his/her residence or any other place, station house officer (SHO) of the area… shall provide the required protection and security.”
“If any incident occurs… and the SHO of the area was informed about the incident but has not taken action, the SHO shall be held responsible for any harm to the journalist.”
The bill also calls for establishing a journalists social security fund and a national journalists council to suggest measures for the welfare of journalists.