July 12, 2021
On May 28, 2021, the Sindh Assembly passed the Sindh Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners Act 2021, as both journalists, media houses and independent platforms are under threat and pressure from state and non-state actors.
However recently, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) while lauding the passing of this Act have presented several recommendations that would be essential to the Act and that should be incorporated during its initial implementation phase.
Special public prosecutor
In a recent statement, RSF has advised that a special public prosecutor is needed in order to comply with the UN Plan of Action. The law should ensure that it creates the position of an independent special prosecutor with their own powers. This would be the only way to counter the influence of individuals or groups who would try to undermine police investigations and evidence collection. Doing this would also prevent crimes against journalists in connection with their work.
Representative decision-making body
The composition of the ‘Commission for the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals’ that is created by the law can be problematic. Our of nine members, only one represents journalists while the other eight are government officials and representatives of media owners and editors. Journalists must be better represented.
The law contains absolutely no provision regarding a gender balance, which will perpetuate the discrimination to which women journalists are routinely subjected in Pakistan. RSF along with its partner in Pakistan Freedom Network (FN) have both suggested that at least a third of the Commission’s members should be women.
Extend protection to families
In view of the different kinds of threats or attacks to which journalists are subjected, and which sometimes also target family members, FN and RSF have also recommended extending the protection to families of the targeted journalists, when required.
The journalists’ law will help Pakistan to implement the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, to which it signed up in 2014, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to which it agreed the following year.
The head of RSF Asia-Pacific desk has said that the fact that law has been passed reflects the degree to which lawmakers have become aware of the ‘absolutely dominant role that press freedom and the safety of journalists play in the functioning of democratic societies.’
When examining the original draft, the Sindh Assembly had agreed to an amendment obligating the Sindh government to offer free legal aid to journalists facing threats or attacks who cannot afford a lawyer.
Executive director of Freedom Network, Iqbal Khattak said that while these lacunae have been pointed out, if they continue to be neglected, the protective mechanisms that the law envisages would not suffice. He has requested the Sindh authorities to look into the recommendations, during the process of establishing the Rules of Business.
Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.