May 25th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
The Commission for Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals (CPJMP) will have 14 days to investigate and prosecute complaints as well as ensure adequate protection to journalists facing any act of abuse, Violence or intolerant behavior, and harassment, according to the legislation tabled in National Assembly on May 21.
The commission is to be constituted under the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals bill. Pakistan has remained on top of the list of countries deemed hazardous for journalists. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists estimates that between 1992 and 2019, at least 61 journalists were killed in Pakistan.
In addition to acts of violence that result in the loss of lives of journalists, and media professionals, there are equally serious concerns pertaining to acts of intimidation, harassment and coercion of journalists not just in Pakistan but around the globe.
The bill establishes a legal and institutional framework for the protection and promotion of the rights of journalists and media professionals. The legislation is an attempt to ensure accountability for all forms of threats, coercion and violence against media professionals. The main provisions of the bill are given below.
Who is a journalist?
Under the bill, a ‘journalist’ is any person professionally or regularly engaged by a newspaper, magazine, news website or other news broadcast medium (whether online or offline), or any person working for any newspaper, magazine, news website, or other news broadcast medium.
In addition, the bill states that a journalist is to be registered with or accredited with the respective federal and provincial press information departments. The PFUJ and Freedom Network have pointed out that the definition does not clearly covers freelance journalists.
Who is a media professional?
According to the bill, a media professional’ includes any other person regularly or professionally engaged in the collection, processing and dissemination of information to the public through any means of mass communication. Camerapersons and photographers, technical supporting staff, drivers and interpreters, editors, translators, publishers, broadcasters, printers and distributors, fall under the definition of a media professional under the bill.
Protection from arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance
Under Section 3, the government shall take steps to ensure that existing or future counter-terrorism or national security laws are not used arbitrarily to hinder work and safety of journalists and media professionals through arbitrary arrest or detention.
Similarly, the government is to ensure effective measures to protect journalists and media professionals against forced or involuntary disappearances, kidnapping and abduction, or other methods of coercion under Section 4.
Safe access to conflict zones
Under Section 5, the government is bound to ensure journalists and media professionals are provided safe access to conflict zones in the country to carry out their professional duties without ‘threats, intimidation, harassment or fear of persecution or targeting’.
Right to privacy and non-disclosure of sources
Journalists and media professionals have provided safeguards against breach of their privacy and disclosure of sources. Under Section 4, they have the right to privacy, which includes protection of the law against interference with his/her home, correspondence, and family. The government is to protect all journalists and media professionals from unlawful or arbitrary interferences with their right to privacy.
The government will 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. The government will safeguard the confidentiality of sources, of journalists or media professionals in law and in practice.
If the CPJMP finds that any institution or organization is, directly or indirectly, involved in violating the rights to life of journalists and media professionals it would report them to the federal government along with a recommendation of an appropriate course of action.
Complaint of violence and threat
Journalists and media professionals can file a complaint with the CPJMP for any act of abuse, violence or intolerant behaviour against them within 14 days of the incident. The complaint can be made against a citizen, public official, and an institution or an authority that allegedly committed the violence or abuse.
Upon receiving the complaint, the CPJMP will take all necessary actions to investigate and prosecute such acts of abuse, violence or intolerant behavior within a period of 14 days.
The CPJMP can also call for information from the federal government, a provincial government, the intelligence agencies or any other authority or organization relating to a complaint. If the information or report is not received within the stipulated time, the CPJMP can proceed to-inquire into the complaint on its own.
The commission, which will have powers of a civil court, can summon witnesses, order production of documents and receive evidence on affidavits. After recording the facts of the offence and the statement of the accused, the CPJMP will forward the case to a magistrate for trial.
In case of harassment, the journalists and media professionals can also approach the Federal Ombusperson on Harrassment at Workplace to lodge their complaints within 14 days of the incident.
The bill defines harrassment as any unwelcome sexual advance, or request for sexual favours or other verbal or written communication, or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, that cause interference with work performance. Intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment will be considered harassment under the bill.
The ombudsperson or relevant authority is bound to take actions to investigate and prosecute such acts of harassment within a period of fourteen days besides taking appropriate measures to provide protection to the concerned journalist, reporter or media professional.
Compensation to journalists
The commission has also been empowered to determine and recommend compensation to a journalist or media professional killed or injured in the discharge of official duties. The CPJMP will recommend the compensation case to the federal and provincial governments.
Journalists Welfare Scheme
Under the bill, media owners are obligated to provide life and health insurance coverage to each journalist or media professional including permanent and contractual employees. The media owners are also bound to provide life and health insurance to non-contractual employees working in conflict zones and hazardous areas.
Compulsory safety training
Similarly, media owners have been obligated to provide each journalist or media professional with compulsory safety training, based on mandatory written policies and protocols, including safety protocols of the respective media house. The training has to be imparted within first month of their recruitment and prior to them engaging in any reporting or journalistic work in any location.
For journalists and media professionals in dangerous locations, intensive training must be provided free-of-cost by media owners to ensure awareness of risks associated with their profession in the particular location.
Under the legislation, media owners should ensure effective capacity building of journalists and media professionals in areas of Health and Environmental Hazards Training (HEHT), Avoidance, Deterrence and Escape Training (ADET), and Kidnapping and Crises Responses Training (KCRT).
Constitution of CPJMP
The CPJMP is to be headed by a chairperson, who has minimum 20 years in matters relating to law, justice and human rights. The chairperson will be appointed for a two-year term.
The commission will have four members nominated by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, one member from each province. Other members will include one representative from the National Press Club and one representative from each provincial press club nominated by the clubs respectively. The commission will also have one representative each from the Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of information and Broadcasting. The CPJMP can also co-opt any person having practical experience in matters relating to journalism as a member.
The Ministry of Human Rights will nominate a panel of experts for appointment as the chairperson of the Commission. After proper scrutiny, the ministry will submit a list of three persons to the federal government which shall appoint a chairperson from among them.
The PFUJ had recommended that the commission should be headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court along with the inclusion of representatives of civil society in the commission.