ISLAMABAD: Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah directed the federal government on Wednesday to appoint the chairman of the Implementation Tribunal for Newspaper Employees (ITNE) by Jan 20.

While hearing a case on journalists and media workers’ protection, job security and the implementation of the wage board, the IHC chief justice noted with concern that such an important post of the ITNE head had been lying vacant for several months.

The court also sought a copy of the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act by Jan 20, when the IHC will resume the hearing.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Ministry of Law and Justice have also been directed to file a reply by the next date of hearing.

Earlier, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) wrote an application to the IHC chief justice which was later converted into a petition.

Law and information ministries directed to file reply by next hearing

The ITNE registrar and senior journalist Mazhar Abbas, who was appointed as an amicus curiae (friend of the court), filed written reports before the court.

Advocate Adil Aziz Qazi appeared on behalf of the PFUJ, while Barrister Umar Ijaz Gillani represented the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association.

Chief Justice Minallah remarked that an independent editor contributes to press freedom. He also inquired about the international practice to ensure independence of media and protection of reporters.

Senior journalist Hamid Mir, another amicus curiae in this case, informed the court that every country formulated a policy for press freedom in accordance with their respective laws. He said an editorial committee in every media house oversaw content.

However, he said the owner of a media house or its chief editor was not responsible for content management, as this responsibility solely fell within the ambit of the editor.

Mr Mir pointed out that the government excluded camerapersons and photographers from the category of journalists in the Journalist Protection Act.

He said Section 6 of the Act on censorship suggested heavy fines for fake news without even defining what constituted fake news.

Mr Mir argued that there was unannounced censorship in the country and in addition to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, unknown callers issued directives for censoring the programmes or content.

Justice Minallah termed it a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution if the government could not ensure press freedom.

The IHC chief justice asked the amici curiae for a proposal to stop the sacking of journalists due to external pressures, as it was against their fundamental rights.

Mr Mir stressed the need for legislation to safeguard the interests and ensure the protection of jobs of outspoken journalists.

He, however, pointed out that the service structure of journalists working in the print media was somehow protected and governed under relevant laws, but there was no legislation for the electronic media.

In reply to a question about the wage board, the journalist replied that it fixed a minimum wage for the journalists and media workers of the print media, but it was not applicable to contractual employees.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2021

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