ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a seminar on Tuesday demanded the government share contents of the proposed bill on journalists’ safety and welfare with the stakeholders.

The seminar was organised at the National Press Club in coordination with an NGO, Freedom Network, to discuss safety issues and job problems faced by journalists.

President NPC Shakeel Anjum said the government was not taking issues faced by journalists and the media workers seriously.

“Successive governments have never been serious in resolving the grievances faced by us,” he said.

“Possibly it is because the government is a party in creating issues whereas some of the government functionaries prefer to have good relations with top management or only the anchors of electronic media,” he added.

He even said some of the official functionaries were a part of the issues itself.

His views were elaborated by Shahzada Zulfiqar, the president of the Quetta Press Club, who said journalists in Balochistan had decided to continue filing stories of banned and proscribed groups even if they had to go to jail for six months.

He said the journalists in the province were being told by law enforcement agencies either to stop filing stories of banned groups or face six months in prison under the law.

“There is a Catch-22 situation for us. Do we file news sent to us by terror groups? Should we file stories of such non-state actors?”

Mr Zulfiqar said the answer to these two questions was ‘No’.

“But nobody tells us what will happen if we did not accommodate the proscribed groups. The banned groups would go for our heads, there is a direct threat to us so we have decided to continue reporting them and face the six-month sentence.”

He criticised the provincial and federal governments for not fulfilling their announcements regarding the payment of compensations to journalists who lost their lives in the line of duty.

Many mediapersons on the occasion expressed concerns over the low wages, lack of proper working conditions and welfare facilities in media houses.

“There has been no judge at the Implementation Tribunal for Newspaper Employees (ITNE) for two years,” said Mohammad Riaz, a senior unionist.

“There are numerous newspapers and channels who are even not paying the monthly salary on time let alone providing facilities to the journalists at the workplaces.”

The organisers of the seminar said politicians belonging to the PML-N, PPP and the PTI were invited to the seminar but no one turned up.

“If the minister for information was busy, she could have sent any official of the ministry. This shows the government is not taking the safety issues of journalists seriously,” said Adnan Rehmat, a media rights activist. “Or this attitude shows that the government wants to hide something.”

He said the proposed “Working Journalist Safety and Welfare Bill’ was being treated like a secret file.

“The draft should be shared with the key stakeholders so that there is a direct input from the aggrieved party - the press clubs and the unions.”

He referred to the Unesco statistics which showed that 642 journalists were killed between 2005 and 2015 in the world and 10pc of them were from Pakistan.

He said Pakistan was a signatory to the UN resolution on journalists’ safety which described that an attack on media would be considered as an attack on democracy.

All the signatories were bound to submit compliance reports every year, but Pakistan has not done so even once, he added.

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2016

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