Bahawalnagar: The safety of journalists should be ensured at any cost and legislation be introduced under UN Resolution 1736 .The report of the committee headed by Federal Minister for Planning & Development Chaudhry Ahsan Iqbal set up for the protection of journalists should be included in the bill which will be tabled in Pakistani parliament for approval. This was demanded by more than 150 journalists hailing from Haroonabad, Fort Abbas,Minchiniabad, Chistian,Mandi Sadiq Ganj and Bahawalnagar city in World Press Freedom Day seminar entitled” Safety of Journalist and Issues of Impunity in Rural Pakistan” jointly organised the Rural Media Network Pakistan(RMNP) and Bahawalnagar Press Club on 3rd May,2017.It was chaired by President RMNP Ehsan Ahmed Sehar while Chairman Municipal Committee Donga Bonga, Bahawalnagar Rao Muhammad Salim Akhtar was the chief guest on this occasion.
The leadership of political leaders, representatives of minorities and civil society organizations also attended this event. President RMNP Ehsan Ahmed Sehar tabled another resolution which was unanimously approved demanding government to update Director General UNESCO about the judicial status of the murdered Pakistani journalists on regular basis. He also demanded of government to appoint special public prosecutors at federal and provincial levels for pursuing journalist’s cases and underlined the need to implement the existing law to stop the sexual harassment of female journalists at their working places. It was also recommended that government should compensate widows of all murdered journalists without further delay. WPFD Seminar participants also suggested government to engage all sections of media and civil society for consultation before legislation as not a single recommendation of the Ahsan Iqbal committee is included in the government proposed Safety, Security and Welfare of Journalists Bill. It was observed that in the current bill there is nothing about prosecution and protection of the journalists.
Chief Guest Chairman Municipal Committee Donga Bonga Rao Muhammad Salim Akhtar and Deputy Director Information department Bahawalnagar Tariq Ismail greeted journalists on World Press Freedom Day and lauded their role in highlighting the grievances of the downtrodden of Bahawalnagar district.
JUI(F) leader Mian Abdul Latif Mohal appreciated the role of journalists in the revival of democracy and highlighted the importance of free media for a society. Chairman Press Club Shahid Nazar, President Muhammad Ahmed Chaudhry, General Secretary Suhail Khan, Dunya TV channel Lahore anchorperson Tariq Hafeez,President Press Club Haroonabad Rai Pervaiz Ahmed,Coordinator RMNP APE Muhammad Suleman Farooqi,Member Coordination Committee RMNP Syed TanveerulHassan Bukhari and others in their speeches said that nation could not afford more killings and hate on the name of religion and sects rather they needed an inclusive society for peace ,progress and development. They called for peaceful co-existence and tolerance against violent extremism. They said that any mob cannot be given the right to take law to their hands and decide the fate of masses in the streets and roads. It is the prerogative of the courts to decide the cases on merit instead of this power to any charged crowd.
President RMNP Ehsan Ahmed Sehar presented extracts from RMNP annual press freedom report which was released in country Urdu language on the eve of World Press Freedom Day. He told the audience that six journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2016 while during current two media persons lost their lives as per RMNP monitoring. Journalists working in rural areas in Pakistan still face a wide range of threats to their safety, and while media freedom appears to have improved marginally in the country in recent years, the open conflict between different sects often places members of the media in dangerous situations. He also emphasised the pressing need to improve capacity-building measures for journalists in the field, noting that professionalism and safety training are essential to developing media freedom in Pakistan.”“There is no comprehensive system to act when a rural journalist is attacked, kidnapped or tortured. No one is aware of any hotline for assistance,” he stated”, adding “rural journalists have no contact with the journalist bodies active in big cities.”He said that rural journalists often work in isolation with extremely limited support from media organisations in financial, moral and professional terms. President RMNP urged press clubs of small towns and rural areas to work together to bridge this gap and fight for their rights and the rights of their colleagues. Presenting a united front to the authorities, as opposed to a divided and disparate group of journalists in rural Pakistan, is essential to combating the many problems facing rural journalists, he maintained. Ehsan Ahmed Sehar called upon the editors and publishers of mainstream media to promote messages of inter-faith and intersect harmony to build a narrative of peace and peaceful co-existence. While publishing/funding/charity appeals, the religious publications and mainstream news media need to focus on safe charity telling their readers/ viewers that they should doubly sure to whom they are giving money in the name of charity to discourage charity sums going to extremist groups who are creating bad name for Muslims and Pakistan. There is need to develop and follow through code of conduct for religious publications / magazines and mainstream media in line with the spirit of Nation Action Plan 2015 to curb publication and broadcast of discriminatory or hate material against other religion or sects, he concluded.
RMNP Coordinator Muhammad Suleman Farooqi read the message of Director General UNESCO Irina Bokova issued on the World Press Freedom Day translated in country Urdu language by Karachi based RMNP Instructor Khalid Saeed. Its copies were distributed to journalists. Messages of FPU,Freedom House,former Director IPI and other press freedom organisations were also circulated among all participants.
RMNP Coordinator Muhammad Suleman Farooqi and member coordination committee Syed TanveerulHassan Bukhhari conducted training sessions of local journalists about their safety in rural areas. They also taught them how to design an action alert and how to monitor press freedom violations. Trainers asked them to constitute press freedom monitoring committees in their respective areas.
RMNP presented copies of RSF handbook and RMNP safety training manual to all journalists. Chief guest Rao Muhammad Salim Akhtar,local prominent figure Mian Abdul Latif Mohal and Deputy Director Information Bahawalnagar Tariq ismail gave it to journalists hailing from different areas of Bahawalnagar district. President RMNP Ehsan Ahmed Sehar presented UNESCO Cds and RMNP-CJA Basic Journalism hand book to Deputy Director Information Bahawalnagar Govt of Punjab Tariq Ismail and General Secretary Press Club Bahawalnagar Suhail Khan.