ISLAMABAD: Speakers on Friday expressed concerns over, what they termed, attempts to gag social media on the pretext of controlling fake news.

Charged speeches were heard at a seminar titled ‘Freedom of Expression and Challenges’ organised by the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ) and National Press Club (NPC).

The speakers, belonging to various spheres of lives, said restrictions on freedom of expression were unacceptable and added that Pakistan’s journalist community would oppose the proposed strict laws regarding social media at every forum.

Addressing the seminar, former prime minister and MNA Raja Pervez Ashraf said ban on media was not only a ban on the rights of journalists, but a restriction on public’s right to know.

“We have fought a long struggle with journalists and will continue to support them in future as well,” he said, adding that mediapersons had rendered immense sacrifices for freedom of expression.

The government should therefore focus on reforming the situation instead of strangling journalism, he said.

Former Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) secretary Nasir Zaidi said freedom of press and expression had been a dream in every era.

“PFUJ will fight against the restrictions imposed by the government,” he added.

Islamabad High Court Bar Association President Riasat Ali Azad stressed on reforms and added that freedom of expression was the basic human right and journalists as well as civil society were functioning under this domain of human rights.

Senior journalist Hafiz Tahir Khalil said the first victim of freedom of expression was the founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah, whose speech was cut by the radio and this tradition continues to this day.

Senior journalist Aamir Ghauri called for amendment to Article 19 of the Constitution, saying that it was the need of the hour because this article restricted free speech.

Former senator Fawzia Arshad said it was important to note what this generation was leaving for the future generations?

“We have to adopt a positive approach instead of politics of anarchy,” she added.

RIUJ President Tariq Ali Virk and former PFUJ secretary FauziaShahid urged some mediapersons to adopt a responsible attitude, saying that freedom of speech did not grant powers to be abusive and degrading.

NPC Secretary Nayyar Ali demanded that the rules of the Journalist Protection Bill should be notified immediately.

Executive Director of the Parliamentary Commission for Human Rights Chaudhry Shafiq and Secretary of Workers Federation of Pakistan and CDA Labor Union Chaudhry Mohammad Yasin also spoke on the occasion.

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2024

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