ISLAMABAD: The much-awaited Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, aimed at protecting journalists and media professionals was finally tabled in the National Assembly on Friday.

Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights Lal Chand introduced the bill meant to promote, protect and effectively ensure the independence, impartiality, safety and freedom of expression of journalists and media professionals, in the house.

The law would offer journalists and media professionals the right to carry out their work in conflict-hit areas within the country, without threat, intimidation, harassment or fear of persecution or targeting.

Under the bill, the government would take all possible steps to protect journalists and media professionals from all forms of abuse, violence and exploitation at the hands of any person, institution (private or public) or authority.

PFUJ praises similar bill presented in Sindh Assembly

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Nafeesa Shah of the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPP-P) said she had also moved a bill as a private member for the protection of journalists. She said that she and her party believed in freedom of expression. She said she did not want to make the bill controversial and announced her decision to withdraw the private member’s bill.

The bill was introduced on Wednesday but it could not be tabled in the house because of objections from some opposition members that it was an old bill first introduced in 2012 and later in 2015.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan, on behalf of Minister for Finance and Revenue Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, introduced a bill to further amend the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act, 2005 (The Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation (Amendment) Bill, 2021) in the house.

Later, a rally led by Speaker of the National Assembly Asad Qaiser and Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani on Friday expressed solidarity with the oppressed people of Palestine.

Members of the National Assembly, civil society activists and media representatives also participated in the protest rally against Israeli aggression in Gaza Strip.

National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri also visited the UN office along with opposition lawmakers to hand over their resolution.

The joint delegation of the government and opposition leaders visited the United Nations office in Pakistan to present the resolution passed by the National Assembly on violence and brutality perpetrated against the Palestinian people by the Israeli apartheid regime.

The decision in this regard was made unanimously by the government and opposition benches in the National Assembly session on Friday to arrange a visit to the United Nations office in Pakistan and hand over a joint resolution passed by the National Assembly on the ongoing Israeli aggression against the innocent Palestinian people.

On the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif to initiate a joint move from all political parties, Amir Dogar from the government benches accepted this proposal and said that the government would always support any such joint move for the Palestinian cause.

PFUJ praises bill

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) welcomed a similar bill presented in the Sindh Assembly, but asked the federal government to grant more powers to the commission that would hear the complaints of media persons under the federal bill.

In a statement issued on Friday, PFUJ president Shahzada Zulfiqar and secretary general Nasir Zaidi also expressed some reservations over the draft bill and said the draft of the bill is much better than the ones prepared in the last 15 years.

“This is a result of our continuous struggle for such a law for journalists’ protection and freedom of the press,” the PFUJ leadership said.

However, there are certain clauses of the bill that need to be improved or amended, the two leaders said, adding that the commission is not fully empowered.

“For instance, freelance journalists may also be defined and apart from inclusion of members of the PBC, HRCP, NCHR and other stakeholders should also be included in the commission and the commission should be empowered to summon government officials. In addition to that the definition of journalist or media person should be clarified and broadened.”

They also expressed reservations over the method proposed for appointment of the chairman of the commission. The statement added that a “judge of the Supreme Court or a retired judge of the apex court should be appointed as chairman of the commission but the comment has set different terms and conditions for the qualification of the chairman than the ones suggested by us”.

The PFUJ lauded the Sindh government’s efforts in this regard and hoped that the bill would be passed soon and it would ensure the protection of media workers and their rights.

The PFUJ leaders said that the Sindh government deserved the appreciation of media persons’ community for being the first one to come up with such a law.

They appealed to the members of Sindh Assembly to pass the bill as early as possible so that the rights of journalists’ community could be protected in an effective way.

The PFUJ leaders appealed to other provincial governments to come up with their own bills as well for the protection of journalists and media persons.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2021

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