Punjab ‘allays’ fears over defamation law

Published May 16, 2024
Punjab Information Minister Azma Bokhari addresses a press conference in Lahore on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV
Punjab Information Minister Azma Bokhari addresses a press conference in Lahore on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV

LAHORE: The Punjab government of Maryam Nawaz is introducing new defamation law in a bid to ‘stop fake news’.

“A person who lies under the guise of a journalist with a specific agenda will face the music under this proposed law,” Punjab Information Minister Azma Bokhari told journalists here on Wednesday.

As the defamation bill 2024 is being tabled in the Punjab Assembly for approval, the government has asked all journalist bodies to submit their concerns by May 19.

The opposition in the Punjab Assem­bly is of the opinion that the PML-N government wants to curb freedom of speech in the name of defamation.

Minister Bokhari said: “The need to introduce new defamation law is felt because under the old defamation law, no case could go beyond the issuance of a notice by a court of law.”

Opposition questions haste in legislation; Lahore Press Club president says CM on ‘dictatorial path’

Under the proposed legislation, she said, “a high court judge will be given the status of a tribunal. The judge will have to hear only two defamation cases a day and complete proceedings within 180 days.”

She said the government did not want to use this law for politics, rather the new law would save people from being scandalised on false allegations.

Assuring the journalists that the proposed law (of defamation) was not against them, the information minister said: “It is against those who disgrace others by telling lies.” She also attempted to dispel the impression that if the bill got passed in the assembly, it would compromise freedom of expression.

Citing examples of other countries, the minister said many of the (fake) news stories that got published in Pakistan could not be published in other countries which have strong defamation laws. “After this law, no one can be blackmailed. Freedom of expression can neither be restricted, nor will be allowed to commit wrongdoing.”

According to her, the proposed law will also address the issue of fake news on social media.

Opposition questions haste

However, opposition leader in Punjab Assembly Malik Ahmad Khan Bhachar said the government aimed to curb freedom of speech in the name of defamation. He advised the PML-N administration not to introduce this law in haste.

“The media and civil society persons should be consulted before finalising the final draft,” he suggested to the provincial assembly on Wednesday. He said the proposed defamation bill should be sent to the parliamentary committee for a thorough review.

The new defamation bill is likely to be passed by the Punjab Assembly on Monday (May 20), as the government has asked journalist fraternity to submit their concerns by Sunday.

Maryam on ‘dictatorial path’

On the other hand, the Lahore Press Club has rejected the proposed defamation law, terming it the PML-N Punjab government’s plan to curb freedom of speech.

“The Punjab government wants to stop journalists from speaking the truth. The Maryam administration is on a dictatorial path to shut the eyes and mouths of journalists,” LPC President Arshad Ansari said in a statement.

“Attempts are now being made to silence journalists with the fear of high courts, tribunals, fines and arrests. We expect that the PPP, an ally of the Punjab government, will come forward and speak for press freedom and raise its voice against this law,” it said and added any legislation in this regard should be done with the consultation of all stakeholders.

It said the LPC has been in contact with all journalist organisations and political parties to thrash ourt a strategy against this proposed ‘oppressive law’ and may start a movement.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2024

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