December 7th, 2021
By Ahmed Saeed
The federal Minister for Human Rights Dr. Shireen Mazari has assured the news media cameramen and photojournalists that their concerns regarding the newly legislated Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021 will be addressed in the yet-to- be-formulated rules of the bill.
News media cameramen and photojournalists were unhappy with the new law as it identifies them as media professionals instead of a journalist. They said it’s tantamount to suppressing their rights and trivialise their work.
Addressing a ceremony at National Press Club Islamabad, Dr. Mazari termed the bill progressive and said it was a step in the right direction. However, she admitted that the law certainly needs a few improvements and that would be done with time.
“We will formulate rules in which we will remove your reservations, especially of photojournalists and video journalists. We will accommodate them in the rules, that could not have been done in the law”, the federal minister said.
She added that her ministry will start working on formulating the rules as soon as it gets a gazette notification. “We will not take much time to formulate the rules as the rules defines that how the bill will be implemented.”
The journalist fraternity of the country had been long demanding the successive governments to legislate to protect the media workers from state highhandedness and harassment at the hands of law enforcement agencies.
Cameramen association warns of protests, boycott
The bill, along with 30 other pieces of legislation, was passed in the joint session of the parliament on 17th November and the president signed the bill into law last week. The government had introduced the bill this year in May in the lower house of the parliament. The government held many consultative sessions with different stakeholders of the bill including different journalists’ bodies.
However, Waheed Butt, chairman of Electronic Media News Camera Association, said that neither journalists’ bodies nor government officials contacted them for any consultation on the bill.
“It is very astonishing for us that the new law does not consider cameramen as journalists, who in this age of digital media played the most crucial role in filming the visuals and bringing it to the entire world. This mistake should be rectified at the earliest”, he said.
In case of non-compliance with their demand, Butt threatened to hit the roads and start a movement against the law.
“This is not a simple mistake, it’s a matter of our rights and we will not withdraw our demands. And if they do not pay heed to our concerns, we will boycott their press conferences and ceremonies”, he said.
‘Already warned govt of reaction’
Nasir Zaidi, secretary-general of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists said that they have time and again raised this issue with the government during the consultative sessions but the government remained adamant not to change the definitions.
“In the end we filed our concerns over this issue in a written form and intimidated the government that this will not go well with the journalist community as all other definitions of journalists provided by PFUJ, IFJ and UNESCO consider cameramen as journalists”, Zaidi said.
But he said that now that Dr. Mazari has assured to rectify the mistake in the bill, the cameramen association should wait for a few weeks. “I am very hopeful that the issue will be resolved amicably soon.”
PFUJ demands to repeal section 6
The PFUJ secretary-general added that the journalists have also concerned with section 6 of the newly passed law. Section 6 states “All journalists and media professionals respect the rights or reputations of others and not produce the material that advocates national, racial, ethnic, religious, sectarian, linguistic, cultural or gender-based hatred, which may constitute incitement to discrimination hostility or violence.
It adds that all journalists and media professionals must not engage in the dissemination of material known by such an individual to be false or untrue.
Subsection 3 of the section states that The journalists who fail to fulfil obligations in subsections (1) and (2) will be tried in accordance with relevant laws.
Zaidi said that there was no need to add this section in the law as the defamation laws are present. “If someone has any issue with any journalist or his/her work then a defamation case can be filed against them. We will urge the government to repeal section 6 from the law otherwise it can become counterproductive and be misused against the journalists,” he said.
A global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has also condemned the inclusion of section 6 in the law and termed it as an extremely vague section.
The RSF in a statement said that Section 6 of the law neutralises virtually all the protection that it was supposed to provide.
“This section prohibits all journalists and media professionals from spreading ‘false information’ and producing material that ‘advocates hatred’ or constitutes ‘incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’ – without clearly defining what any of these terms means,” RSF said in the statement.