November 12th, 2020
By Rehan Piracha
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz has recently announced that the federal government would soon be tabling the Journalists Protection Bill 2020 in parliament for approval but the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists said that journalists as in a previous draft in February were not consulted on the proposed law.
“Protecting the rights of journalists and workers is our top priority,” Shibli Faraz said in his tweet on November 10: “We will strive for the promotion of an independent and responsible journalism in the country,” he added. The minister said the bill had been finalised by the Ministry of Information and Human Rights Division.
وزارت اطلاعات اور انسانی حقوق ڈویژن کی جانب سے جرنلسٹ پروٹیکشن بل کو حتمی شکل دے دی گئی ہے۔اسے بہت جلد پارلیمان میں منظوری کیلئے پیش کیا جائے گا۔صحافیوں اور ورکرز کے حقوق کا تحفظ ہماری اولین ترجیح ہے۔ ملک میں آزاد اور ذمہ دار صحافت کے فروغ کیلئے کوشاں رہیں گے۔
— Senator Shibli Faraz (@shiblifaraz) November 10, 2020
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Nasir Zaidi said the information and broadcast ministry had not consulted the journalists’ body on the finalised Journalists Protection Bill 2020. Zaidi said the journalists protection bill has been under discussion for about six years in the country.
The federal government in the last tenure of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz had first tabled The Protection of Journalists Act 2014 after consultation with journalists. However, journalists had expressed reservations on the proposed law and suggested amendments. Shireen Mazari, Federal Minister for Human Rights, presented a draft of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2020 in February prepared by her ministry. According to Zaidi, the draft law was broadly acceptable to the journalistic community.
No details or draft of the finalised bill has been released publicly after the federal minister’s tweet. In a tweet on November 9, Mazari said the bill was finalized with additional input by a joint sub-committee formed earlier. “Final meeting between MOHR and the Information Ministry held this morning. Our Journalist Protection Bill has been finalised with additional inputs suggested by a joint subcommittee formed earlier. Will be sent to CCLC this week as Cabinet had approved it in principle already,” she tweeted.
Final meeting between MOHR and Information Ministry held this morning. Our Journalist Protection Bill has been finalised with additional inputs suggested by joint sub committee formed earlier. Will be sent to CCLC this week as Cabinet had approved it in principle already. pic.twitter.com/devxThGz7p
— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) November 9, 2020
On November 2, the PFUJ and the Freedom Network had urged the federal government to expedite legislation for the protection of journalists. In February, the Editors for Safety had also urged the government to immediately present the undiluted version of the human rights ministry’s bill before parliament so that it could be passed into a comprehensive law to protect journalists and other media professionals.
‘Govt responsible for retrenchments’
On Nov 11, journalists and activists held protest rallies, organised by PFUJ, across the country. The speakers said government tactics to gag media are leading to retrenchments in the industry.
The rallies were attended by journalists, media workers and retrenched employees and pensioners of PTV, Radio Pakistan apart from workers and trade unions of Oil and Gas Development Corporation (OGDCL), Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL), and CDA also joined the protest.
In the capital, a protest rally was scheduled from the National Press Club to the Parliament House. However, the rally was stopped by police at D-Chowk.
PFUJ Secretary General Nasir Zaidi in his address said the entire media community was united for ensuring free press and protecting rights of the community.
Senior journalist Hamid Mir said the protest itself was ample proof of government highhandedness against the media industry and strict censorship on media as the operation of channel 24 is suspended for the last 72 days. “PTV and Radio Pakistan are not being spared from retrenchments, forced retirements and denial of dues to pensioners,” he said.
Anchor and HRCP representative Muneze Jehangir said today all workers are united for their rights and any attempt to thwart this unity will be foiled. Protests were also held in 13 other cities including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Multan, Abbottabad and Sukkur. In a rally in Quetta, PFUJ President Shehzada Zulfiqar criticised the government for failing to resolve issues in the country.
What’s in the bill?
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.
Constitution of Commission for the Protection of Journalists
Mazari 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.