PPF secretary general Owais Aslam Ali speaks at the programme.—PPI
PPF secretary general Owais Aslam Ali speaks at the programme.—PPI

KARACHI: To mark World Press Freedom Day (May 3) and to launch a policy paper on the Draft for Protection of Journalist and Media Professionals Bill, 2020, an event was held by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) and the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) at the Karachi Press Club on Monday evening.

Ghazala Fasih, who moderated the programme, in her introductory remarks said the history of the constitutional freedom of the press in the country is one of great struggle. It’s been 73 years since Pakistan came into being. Journalism played an important part in the freedom movement of the country. Unfortunately, after independence, the vision that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had for journalism was overlooked (usey nazar andaz ker dia gaya).

She said despite many efforts a law to protect journalists had not been made. Fortunately, in February 2020 the present federal government’s Ministry of Human Rights came up with a Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill which was good. But it had room for improvement. So the PPF engaged an international firm to analyse it and now they’re ready with a policy paper on the subject. All national stakeholders were consulted for the purpose. The response from the federal and Sindh governments has been good and the Sindh govt has assured them that it will implement it at the provincial level.

Prof Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan said it’s important to know why freedom of the press was needed. Giving a historical perspective of things, he said over the centuries the ‘state’ (riyasat) kept evolving. As a result of the industrial revolution, urbanisation started to take root. It helped increase the literacy rate which in turn created the middle class and the proletariat. Their creation brought about a change in society. It also created awareness of fundamental human rights and enabled people to understand who should have the upper hand in running the state. After a long struggle, in Britain for example, Magna Carta was agreed upon which gave power to parliament.

Prof Khan said with the emergence of parliament, the concept of a new state was introduced which had three pillars: the executive, parliament and the judiciary. At the same it was realised that in order to monitor these three pillars, a fourth was needed – which meant the newspapers. It was also realised that the state is run with the help of its people’s money, so they had the right to know where their money was being spent. This implied that until the people didn’t have the right to know they won’t be able to take the right decision. And the right to know could only mean something concrete if the media had the right to information. The right to information strengthens democratic values. “Without democracy, no state can progress, and freedom of the press is essential for democracy,” he added.

Owais Aslam Ali of the PPF said the situation that the press faces is not just confined to a single country; it can be seen as a global trend. Before the 1990s, there was controlled politics (paband siasat) in the world. Whatever journalists were told to write, they would. Therefore there were no attacks on their lives. For instance, during the Afghan war, despite the bomb blasts, journalists were not targeted. After the year 2000, the attention to freedom of the press was given and with the emergence of electronic media, and later on social media, things changed a great deal. And the number of attacks on mediamen began to increase.

He urged journalist organisations to get together on a single-point agenda so that the aforementioned bill can be passed.

Abdul Jabbar Khatak, Mazhar Abbas and Qazi Asif, among others, were also on the speakers’ list.

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2021

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