ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Journalists Safety Coalition (PJSC) has declared the ‘Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021’ passed by the previous government as “fundamentally flawed” in some respects and urged Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to amend the law to make it optimally beneficial for stakeholders.

This unanimous demand was made during a meeting of the coalition, which brings together representative associations of media workers, senior journalists, human rights commissions, digital rights groups, female journalists and political parties, says a press release issued on Monday.

It was highlighted in the meeting that section 6 of the law mandates proof of “good faith” before it can benefit journalists.

The meeting’s participants said this was akin to a pre-qualification clause, which was anathematic to press freedom and principles of lawmaking. Journalists, media bodies and civil society have been demanding removal of this clause.

Meeting participated by representatives of media workers, journalists, HR bodies

Furthermore, participants of the meeting raised concern about how the law was “gender blind” in terms of its failure to mandate a minimum number of women to the proposed Safety Commission that is to be set up under the law and demanded that an amendment should mandate that at least 25pc members of the commission be women to make it a progressive law.

“We unanimously demand the Shehbaz Sharif government to make these amendments on an urgent basis to convert what is a law good in intent but bad in draft, and hence misplaced in functionality, so that journalists can benefit from the law,” the statement said.

The law was passed by the current parliament in late 2021 with unanimous support of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and other parties but section 20 was sneaked into the draft by the previous government rendering it practically redundant.

The government has also been urged to be consultative rather than secretive in the process.

A panel of three names must be picked out by the prime minister for chairperson of the Safety Commission, which must include at least one woman.

Among those who attended the meeting were legal expert Aftab Alam, Farhatullah Babar, senior journalist Hamid Mir, National Press Club President Anwar Raza, Myra Imran of the Women Journalists Association of Pakistan, chairman of Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan Sabookh Syed, media analyst Adnan Rehmat and Iqbal Khattak.

One minute of silence was also observed to pay homage to two legendary journalists and founding members of PJSC - the late I.A. Rehman and late Mohammad Ziauddin – who championed the cause of journalists’ safety and protection.

The meeting unanimously elected Hamid Mir as the coalition’s chairperson after the demise of its founding chair Mohammad Ziauddin.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2022

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