Legislation to protect journalists at the provincial level in Pakistan is in dire straits
Pakistan is one of the countries where the profession of journalism is dangerous because there is no punishment for those who torture journalists and no decision can be taken in such cases. In view of this situation, legislation has been adopted to guarantee the protection and freedom of expression of journalists and other media workers.
The Sindh Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners Act 2021 was unanimously passed by the Sindh Assembly at the provincial level on 28 May 2021. Subsequently, the Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners Act 2021 was passed at the provincial level federal in November 2021. However, even after the passage of more than a year, this law has not yet been made in the rest of the provinces. In 2013, Pakistan pledged to implement the United Nations 10-year Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists.
At the provincial level, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Punjab, an effort is being made to provide a legal umbrella of protection to the journalist community through this bill.
Zowar Hussain, former chief reporter of The News Karachi and former special correspondent of Associated Press Islamabad, says that any law or policy is based on experiences, observations and general results. The law for the protection of journalists is the need of the hour, so it is good for the journalistic community to come together to make a law for itself. He says that the journalist can be aware of the complexities of the field, the ups and downs and other issues. Therefore, the leaders of the journalism community, clubs and unions must work together on this bill.
Senior journalist Sher Ali Khalti says that due to the apathy of the government and politics in Punjab, the Media Protection Act has not yet been implemented. Civil society organizations, journalists, press clubs, journalists’ unions have held meetings with political parties and politicians regarding this bill, but none of the politicians have presented this bill in the Punjab Assembly. In these consultative meetings, an effort was made to convince people of the seriousness of the situation, the problems faced by the life and work of journalists, the killing of journalists, kidnappings for ransom, torture, kidnappings from their homes.
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) Secretary General Owais Aslam Ali says the importance of protection of journalists has been recognized in the Sindh and Federation Act and protection of news media has also been recognized. According to the law, no person or institution can take over a journalist’s phone or laptop, tap his phones or pressure him to reveal news sources. In this regard, the action plan of the United Nations is very clear.
The Press Foundation of Pakistan was involved in the informal Sindh Committee on the Protection of Journalism Act from its inception. The peculiarity of the Sindh Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners Act 2021 is that this law will prevail over the rest of the conflicting laws and other laws will not be respected. Priority is given. This may become his greatest weakness.
Media persons themselves should be made aware of the Law on the Protection of Journalism. Every journalist should read this law to report wherever it is violated. The biggest thing is the ‘privacy’ clause included in the law, which protects journalists and their news sources. In addition, there is an important clause for the confiscation of the journalist’s means of communication, i.e. the phone and laptop.
This law has been violated in the recent arrests of journalists, be it Matiullah Jan, Shahid Aslam or Imad Yusuf. During the investigation, the agency asks journalists for their sources and also tries to seize their communication devices. This is a violation of the law and according to this even the officials of government institutions are not aware. In the Shahid Aslam case, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officer himself told the court that “the phones and computers have been taken into custody and are being sent for forensics to find out the passwords”.
The General Secretary of the PPF says that the second important thing is that the impression is being created in the media that the work on the law will not start until the formation of the commission. Being a commission is a provision, but it is the responsibility of government bodies to promptly implement other provisions of the law.
Following the passage of the federal law, Bol News Lahore journalist Shahid Aslam was arrested without warning in January 2023 and this is evident from the pressure on him to reveal news sources and the attempted seizure of his communication equipment, phone and laptop . Awareness about the law is the need of the hour.
Shahid Aslam said he is grateful to his fellow journalists, unions, press clubs, institutions and journalist aid organizations, the timely emphasis on source protection in the law has largely resolved the issues, but says there is a problem of terrible. need for media protection law in Punjab too.
Shahid Aslam said that as a communication student and professional journalist, he was mentally prepared for the reaction to the news, but it was not a film action situation or a pre-prepared script that he knew he would have to walk into my house. Karin will be taken by force in front of my family. I didn’t know what to do at that time, I was being pressured to tell my news sources what was more precious to me than my life. I could not betray my profession. Anyway, I will get out of this trauma with my friends, but what can I say to the family?
Shahid Aslam further said that neither our institution nor any organization has contacted me for mental health counseling because my case has gone public. Nowhere from academia to journalism are we trained to deal with post-traumatic situations. I wish that when this bill is introduced in Punjab and other provinces, such training will be made compulsory for journalists.
However, according to Mazhar Abbas, a journalist and analyst associated with Geo News, the introduction of laws regarding the safety of journalists at the national and provincial levels is a good step and an important development that will enable action against violence against journalists. The Sindh law is better than the federal law as it empowers the commission to take notice suo motu while the inclusion of representatives of other organizations in the commission will further strengthen it. Mazhar Abbas says that ‘this law cannot end violence against journalists, but the torturers can be identified’.
But Asad Ali Toor, who was tortured in Islamabad in May 2021, and journalist Bilal Farooqui, who was arrested in September 2020 for sharing anti-military material on social media, are not optimistic about the law.
Asad Toor says that the fact that he was subjected to such torture just a few days after the introduction of this law is evidence that those involved in violence against journalists do not care about these laws and that is the message. They wanted to give to the government, because of which they were targeted.
Bilal Farooqui says the government makes these laws to protect citizens and then these laws are used against journalists. “The person who filed the FIR against me never appeared before the court, but till date this FIR has not been closed.” We all know that this bill does not matter by whose orders it was made. He who has all this happening in one phone call will continue to do so.’
Senior journalist, teacher and analyst Mubasher Bukhari says it is the responsibility of journalists to record complaints of threats or harassment instead of ignoring them to increase the effectiveness of the law.
Speaking about the law, Mubasher Bukhari said that the latest journalism law talks about digital, physical and mental security, but economic security is not mentioned anywhere in this law. In the previous government, the advertisements of many institutions were stopped, due to which the institutions that were already not paying regular salaries, after the interruption of the advertisements, the owners got a big excuse and they not only reduced the salaries but also paid large salaries. were also fired from large-scale jobs. Because of this, thousands of journalists remained unemployed.
According to the law, all institutions are obliged to insure journalists, but compensation alone is not enough. For example, in the Sadaf Naeem case, fellow journalist Gaddafi Butt came to Lahore with the dead body of Sadaf Naeem, he stayed with the body all the time, when I spoke to him, he was crying and crying. He went into shock, but no media house has a policy on this situation. While working in Reuters international organization, I received very dangerous threats in Gamay Shah bomb blast story and another story, so I got a call from London and was advised and sent to a safe place for a few days in addition to practical counseling U offered a transfer. Although I did not accept that offer, it is an example of international media organizations that include such things in their policy and implement them.
According to Amir Sohail, vice-president of the Punjab Union of Journalists, incidents of attacks, threats, abduction and killing of journalists continue to occur in Punjab, based on which he believes that the law to protect journalists is an important demand of Punjab. The old rules were only limited to print media, new technology, social networking sites and now in the age of YouTubers. There is a need for clarifications in the law for independent journalists.
Mehmal Sarfraz, co-founder of The Current and editor of News Online, says that under the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021; “Every democratic society must develop a strong culture of freedom and protection for journalists, but the way journalists continue to be attacked today speaks volumes for the impunity in our democracy.” A recent example of this is the charge on which investigative journalist Shahid Aslam was arrested from Lahore by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Shahid Aslam denies this charge. This act was not only a form of intimidation and harassment by a federal agency, but the manner in which Shahid was arrested was also a violation of basic human rights and freedoms. This journalist was treated as a criminal. The arrested journalist was also asked for his cell phone and laptop passwords.
Iqbal Khattak, director of Freedom Net Pakistan, says the culture of impunity is the biggest problem for journalists. Those who do not believe in the free press, have attacked, threatened and killed journalists, are getting stronger because the hands of the law are not around their necks. The purpose of this new law is to punish crimes against journalists according to existing laws
Moira Imran is the Vice President of the Islamabad Press Club. She says that one of the important aspects of this law is the creation of a commission for the protection of journalists. There are union representatives, a judge to preside, people from the Ministry of Human Rights, the Ministry of Information, journalists’ cases will go to the commission.
According to the law, if a journalist is harassed or subjected to torture, the details of the incident will be presented to the commission within 14 days and the commission will make a decision on it within 14 days. The Commission has the power to summon any person during the investigation of the event and request documents or reports from any institution.
Associate Professor Shazia Toor of the Department of Communication, University of the Punjab, Lahore says this is a good step to protect journalists. Journalists must be trained not to put themselves at risk just for ratings, nor to put themselves at risk just for competition. There is an urgent need to change the mindset. Instead of the kind of race Pakistani journalists are in, learn new skills. We are still being taught the lessons of ancient times. Our curriculum should also include that the safety of your life should be your first priority in any profession and should include some mechanism to bridge the gap between classroom and practical journalism.