ISLAMABAD: Former Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) chairman I. A. Rehman on Tuesday said journalists are the guardian of public interest so whenever a journalist is attacked it should be considered as an attack on society, democracy and the state.

He was speaking at a national conference on media safety at a local hotel on Tuesday. The event was organised by the Freedom Network in connection with the global launch of a report, “Defending journalism - global best practices,” commissioned by Unesco and produced by European organisation, International Media Support.

“Freedom of expression is the right of citizens but confusion is created by describing it as a right of the media alone. I urge political parties to fulfil their responsibility by helping journalists remain the safe guardian of public interest,” Mr Rehman said.

Freedom of expression is a right of citizens, but confusion is created by describing it as a right of media, says I.A. Rehman

He said journalists had been facing attacks consistently and the pattern of the attacks remained the same. On the other hand, there is impunity for those who are involved in such incidents. As a result, no one has the courage to write against them.

“Same is the case with the missing persons as those who speak against the issue also disappear,” he said.

PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar said mediapersons should avail of two recent initiatives taken in the Senate to build a legislative framework for the protection of journalists and to end the impunity with which they had been targeted both by state and non-state actors.

The two initiatives were: the rejection of the government draft ‘Protection of Journalists Bill’ by the Senate information committee for not addressing the central issue of safety, and handing over of investigations to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior on the recent attack on The News reporter Ahmad Noorani and other journalists in the past. He said professional media bodies should make their voice heard at these two forums.

Veteran journalist Nasir Malik said state and non-state actors had now started using madressah students to target journalists.

“In Ahmed Noorani’s case, madressah students were used and they were so trained that they knew how to avoid the Safe City Project cameras. They also did not carry mobile phones to avoid geo-fencing,” he said.

Journalist Haroon Rashid of BBC Urdu said because of the collective efforts of senior journalists media houses had now started mentioning the names of journalists and their organisations in case of an attack on the mediapersons.

Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas suggested that in case of the killing of a journalist, joint editorials should be written by to put pressure on the government and intelligence agencies.

“Moreover, attacks on journalists should be tried in the anti-terrorism courts to ensure speedy trial. The case of Daniel Pearl was decided by an ATC in two weeks but its appeal in the ordinary court is pending for over 15 years,” he said.

Abdullah, a journalist from the tribal areas, said correspondents in Fata were not paid but forced to work in the conflict zone.

Norwegian Ambassador Tore Nedrebo said continuing attacks on journalists and pressure on online media practitioners put a question mark on the quality of democracy.

Swedish Ambassador Ingrid Johansson said the Nordic and European states supported Pakistan’s journey of democracy, saying progress on it was linked to protection and strengthening of the freedom of expression.

Unesco Executive Director Vibeke Jensen said Pakistan had committed to reporting on progress on combating impunity of crimes against journalists but had failed to do so. The Unesco executive director urged Islamabad to fulfil its international obligations.

The report showcased success stories about how journalists and media support groups were leading a determined fight against an assault on media freedom globally, including in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2017

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