KARACHI: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its partner, Freedom Network (FN), hail the adoption of a law protecting journalists by the Sindh Assembly, but they propose essential improvements that should be incorporated into the law during its initial implementation phase, says a press release.
The essence of the new law, passed unanimously by the Sindh Assembly on May 28, is summed up in this key article: “No person or institution, whether private or public, shall engage in any act that violates or threatens the right to life and security of any journalist or media practitioner.”
The law will help Pakistan to implement the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, to which it signed up in 2014, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to which it agreed the following year.
“The very broad consensus that led to the Sindh Assembly’s adoption of the law protecting journalists should serve as an example both in the rest of Pakistan and internationally,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “It reflects the degree to which lawmakers have become aware of the absolutely dominant role that press freedom and the safety of journalists play in the functioning of democratic societies.”
FN executive director Iqbal Khattak said: “Freedom Network is thankful to the Sindh government for supporting and passing such an inspirational special law for which the journalist community, editors, RSF and Freedom Network worked hard to help devise a mechanism to end impunity for crimes against media and its practitioners.”
The law says it aims to enable those responsible for crimes of violence against journalists to be brought to justice and to create an environment favourable to professional, independent journalism that serves the general interest.
When examining the original draft, the Sindh Assembly agreed to an amendment obligating the Sindh government to offer free legal aid to journalists facing threats or attacks who cannot afford a lawyer.
Despite this and other positive aspects, RSF and FN have identified several issues that the law has not addressed. If they continue to be neglected, the protective mechanisms it envisages will probably not suffice to combat impunity and provide journalists with full protection.
RSF and FN therefore ask the Sindh authorities to heed the following recommendations during the process of establishing the practical rules for implementing the law, known as “Rules of Business.”
Special public prosecutor: A special public prosecutor is needed to comply with the UN Plan of Action. The Sindh authorities must therefore ensure that the law creates the position of an independent special prosecutor with their own powers. This is the only way to counter the influence that individuals or groups may try to use to undermine police investigations and evidence collection, and thereby prevent crimes against journalists in connection with their work from being punished.
Representative decision-making body: The composition of the Commission for the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals that is created by the law must be revised because, as it stands, only one of its nine members represents journalists and the other eight are government officials and representatives of media owners and editors. Journalists must be better represented.
Gender balance: The law contains absolutely no provision regarding a gender balance, which will tend to perpetuate the discrimination to which women journalists are routinely subjected in Pakistan. FN and RSF insist that at least a third of the commission’s members are women.
Extend protection to families: In view of the different kinds of threats or attacks to which journalists are subjected, and which sometimes also target family members, FN and RSF recommend extending the protection to families of the targeted journalists, when required.
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2021