ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Information on Monday suggested that every media house should contribute 5pc of its revenue earnings towards the fund being established for the safety of journalists.

The committee at a meeting chaired by Senator Kamil Ali Agha discussed the establishment the ‘Journalists Safety Fund’ under the proposed Journalists Safety, Security and Protection Act 2017.

Senator Farhatullah Babar, the architect of the bill, told the meeting that initially the government would provide a seed money of Rs200 million to the fund.

“We expect that there will be contributions from various quarters of the society for the Fund, including political parties, corporate sector and even large NGOs,” Senator Babar said.

Senate body informed that govt would initially provide a seed money of Rs200m

But media organisations shall also make regular contributions towards it in proportion to the number of employees hired by them, he added.

The committee discussed the draft bill taking input not only from the members but also from officials belonging to the Ministry of Information, Press Information Department (PID), Pemra and mediapersons covering the meeting.

The committee decided to levy a fixed percentage of the revenue of each media house towards the fund but the final decision was delayed as the officials of the information ministry demanded that their inputs should be considered as well.

The bill has been forwarded to the Ministry of Information for its feedback.

The meeting was also attended by Senator Sassui Palejo, Senator Dr Ghaus Mohammad Khan Niazi and Senator Sardar Mohammad Yaqub Khan Nasir.

The draft bill was prepared by a subcommittee headed by Senator Babar and comprising Senator Nehal Hashmi and Senator Khushbakht Shujaat.

Explaining the salient features of the draft, Senator Babar said it provided for the establishment of a council with representatives of journalist bodies, media safety experts, human rights activists nominated by the National Commission on Human Rights and a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute crimes against journalists besides official representatives from ministries of information, interior, law and justice, Pemra and the principal information officer.

“There is a provision in the bill that allows the council to initiate investigations even against the government departments or the state institutions who are accused of committing excesses against mediapersons,” Senator Babar told the committee.

He said the UN recommendation for appointing a special prosecutor for crimes against journalists had also been provided in the bill.

The special prosecutor will oversee prosecution of the cases of crimes against journalists and also devise a mechanism for combating impunity of crimes against journalists, he said.

“The special prosecutor will also devise special systems to address allegations of involvement of state agencies.”

This is a groundbreaking initiative and is along the line of the Right to Information Legislation to provide some mechanism for questioning agencies within a limited framework, he said.

The council will operate the ‘Journalists Safety Fund’ to assist mediapersons under attack, ascertain and address causes of impunity of crimes against journalists and formulate and implement safety and security policies in consultation with all stakeholders.

He said the council would not have any representation from the owners of media houses so that there is no influence on the working of the council.

“We want the owners to understand their responsibilities that is why we want them to contribute towards the fund for the safety of journalists,” said Senator Babar.

The council has also been tasked to develop policies for digital safety and protection of online spaces of journalists needed for a safe environment for journalistic work, he added.

The scope of beneficiaries has been extended to cover all permanent and contractual journalists employed by private or state media organisations such as the PTV and Radio Pakistan possessing valid accredited identification cards.

The statement of objects and reasons of the bill states that journalists and mediapersons have increasingly faced threats to their lives to prevent them from the performance of their professional duties.

“Unfortunately, Pakistan ranks high among countries declared most dangerous for journalists. Scores of journalists have fallen victims of violence during the last decade and a half. Worse still, crimes against journalists have been taking place with impunity and with exception of two or three case there has been no conviction of the perpetrators of crimes against them.”

Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2018

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