KARACHI: The journalists and other media practitioners shall have protection against disclosure of professional sources of information under The Sindh Protection of Journalists and other Media Practitioners Bill 2021 that also bars government officials and institutions from forcing them to disclose the identity of their professional sources.
According to the draft of the new media law, the protected information gathered by journalists and other media practitioners includes, but is not limited to, information gathered in the field through interviews or personal observations, telephone conversations, and information gathered online or through digital platforms.
Besides, the draft bill says that no journalist or other media person shall be subjected to any unlawful or arbitrary restrictions on their ability to perform their work independently, and without undue interference.
‘Employers shall be responsible for providing adequate insurance for vulnerable media practitioners’
The bill was presented in the Sindh Assembly on Friday by Information Minister Syed Nasir Shah and later referred to the Standing Committee on Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Human Rights, which will present its report within three days in the house after its scrutiny.
The bill enables the provincial government to take effective steps to ensure that every journalist and media practitioner’s right to life, safety and security as provided under Article 9 of the Constitution are safeguarded.
The government will also ensure that effective steps are taken to protect journalists and other media practitioners from harassment, violence, and threats of violence by any person or groups of persons or public or private institution or authority in both physical as well as online and digital spaces.
Training and insurance
Under the Act, the employers shall be responsible for providing adequate insurance and training for vulnerable journalists and other media practitioners who may be at risk of being attacked, injured, or killed because of their work.
The government will coordinate with the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) to ensure the provision of adequate insurance of and training for journalists and other media practitioners who may be at risk of being attacked, injured, or killed because of their work.
The government will coordinate with stakeholders including, but not limited to, PFUJ, APNS, CPNE, and PBA and civil society organisations to develop safety policies and protocols for journalists and other media practitioners and to institute effective safety programmes catering to different categories of journalists and other media professionals such as reporters, photojournalists, video camera persons, district correspondents, etc.
The bill said that no act of harassment and violence committed against journalists or other media practitioners shall be exempted from immediate and effective investigation and prosecution.
It added that threats of violence or harassment against journalists or other media practitioners shall be considered as actual acts of violence or harassment for the purposes of this Act.
Under the Act, the government shall develop and implement effective strategies for combating impunity for crimes against the media that will include:
i. Monitoring and conducting investigations into cases reported by journalists and other media practitioners, their families, unions, media associations, or civil society organisations, working on the protection of life, safety and security of journalists and other media practitioners.
ii. Coordinating policy and action between relevant government authorities at local, provincial, and federal level.
iii. Coordinating with relevant stakeholders including civil society organisations, unions, employers, and media industry associations as well as government departments to implement the United Nations Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
Establishment of a commission
As per the new media law, the government shall establish a commission to be known as the Commission for the Protection of Journalists and other Media Practitioners (CPJMP) to exercise the powers and perform the functions under the Act.
It will consist of a chairperson, secretaries of the information, home, law and human rights departments as ex-officio members and non-official members from the PFUJ, APNS, CPNE, PBA, Sindh Bar Council, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Sindh Information Commission.
The commission would be headed by a chairperson, who would be a serving or retired judge of the high court or a retired civil servant of BPS-20 grade having demonstrable knowledge of, or practical experience in, the matter relating to law, justice, public administration and human rights.
The commission shall be an autonomous body and shall have powers to regulate its own procedures and to formulate its own rules and regulations.
The CPJMP may also raise money from other sources subject to its procedures, rules and regulations and it will have authority and autonomy to staff and manage the secretariat.
Functions of CPJMP
The commission will look into the complaints to be filed before it in respect of an act of harassment, sexual harassment, violence, and threats of violence committed as per Article 3 of this Act against a journalist or media practitioner.
Whether perpetrated by any person or group of persons or public or private institution or authority, the aggrieved journalist or other media practitioner, employer, union, relevant civil society organisation, or media association, shall file a complaint against the same before the commission within 30 days of the incident.
Under the Act, the commission can also take suo motu notice of any attack on a journalist or media practitioner.
It said that if the commission finds that any person or groups of persons or public or private institution or authority is, directly or indirectly, involved in violating, or attempting to violate, the rights to life and safety as defined in Article 3 of this Act, it shall report the same to the government within 14 days of the incident, and recommend an appropriate course of action against the perpetrators of these violations.
As per the Act, the commission shall be deemed to be a civil court to the extent that is described in sections 175, 178, 179, 180 and 228 of the Pakistan Penal Code, and it shall have the equivalent of contempt of court powers if its directives relating to Article 14 (g) are not complied with.
The commission will create a website to enable online registration of complaints, and to provide updates and the status of the cases reported to it.
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2021