THE passage of The Sindh Protection of Journalists and other Media Practitioners Bill, 2021, by the provincial assembly on Friday can only be described as a step in the right direction where official safeguards for the media fraternity are concerned.

There is little doubt that those associated with journalism work in less than ideal circumstances in the country, including in Sindh. Truth-telling does not go down well with powerful actors — state and non-state — and many journalists have paid with their lives simply for doing their job. In fact, just this past March, journalist Ajay Lalwani was gunned down in the Sukkur town of Salehpat; there has been little progress in the case. More recently, journalist Asad Toor was roughed up by unknown attackers in the federal capital.

Read | Media in chains: The cost of speaking truth to power in South Asia

Some of the highlights of the bill include the fact that mediapersons will not be bound to divulge their sources while a commission has been envisaged to protect journalists. The legislation also states that those who harass mediapersons will be held to account.

The Sindh administration deserves kudos for passing a law to protect journalists. The centre has also tabled the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, in the National Assembly, and KP also plans to table a bill designed to protect mediapersons in the provincial assembly. However, while the passage of laws is welcome, their implementation is what really matters.

As international press freedom bodies have noted, Pakistan is amongst the most difficult places in the world for journalists to carry out their professional duties. To truly create an atmosphere where a free press can thrive, those who harass and kill mediapersons must be brought to book. Along with the Ajay Lalwani case, the killing of journalist Aziz Memon, who was slain in Naushahro Feroze last year, remains unresolved. It is hoped that with the passage of Sindh’s law, the authorities work with new vigour to punish the elements that intend to harm journalists and prevent them from doing their job.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2021

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