Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Friday congratulated “working journalists” on the Senate’s approval of the Journalist Protection Act.

“Congratulations to working journalists. Today, the Journalist Protection Act was also passed by the Senate,” said Fawad. Journalists in Pakistan for the “first time” will enjoy rights that they only got in developed societies, he claimed.

The minister said that the law was an indication of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government’s commitment to free media.

Fawad also thanked Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari for working hard to put his idea into practice.

“This law will play a crucial role in securing the work of journalists and changing their lives,” said Fawad.

Separately, Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari said that President Arif Alvi will soon ratify the bill as it has been green-lighted by the Senate. The bill was already approved by the National Assembly, she said.

“Today after [a] two-year struggle to provide a comprehensive journalist and media professionals protection law, drafted in consultation with journalist bodies, was finally realised through Parliament. After National Assembly,  Senate passed the bill by majority vote. Now the president will sign the bill into law,” tweeted Mazari.

The minister also thanked “all the journalists and media professionals” who gave their “valuable” input and support. She added all their recommendations can be seen in the bill.

“The bill was drafted with consensus,” said Mazari.

However, PTI Senator Faisal Javed Khan claimed that the “opposition in the Senate opposed the bill” that was promoting, protecting and effectively giving “independence, impartiality, safety and freedom of expression” to journalists and media professionals.

“It was then voted upon and passed by the house 35 (government) vs 27 (opposition),” said Senator Faisal.

Salient features of the bill

The bill is called the “Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021” and covers the whole of Pakistan.

The bill explains the difference between a journalist and a non-journalist, media professional and a media owner.

The bill puts the onus on the government to ensure that media workers’ “right to life and protection against ill-treatment” is guaranteed as per Article 9 of the Constitution.

Apart from this, the bill will also make it liable on the government to “ensure that existing or future counter-terrorism or national security laws are not utilised arbitrarily to hinder the work and safety of journalists and media professionals”. This clause has been added to put an end to “arbitrary arrest, detention, or threats” so that the media can operate with “independence, impartiality and freedom”.

To ensure this, the bill empowers the government to establish an “Independent Commission for the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals”.

The commission has been authorised to report “any institution or organisation” that is “directly or indirectly” involved in violating the rights of journalists to the federal government. The commission can also suggest to the federal government an “appropriate course of action” against the people involved in violating those rights.

The bill will also ensure the “right to privacy and non-disclosure of sources” of journalists. The clause also bars any person, officer, agency or institution from interfering with their “home, correspondence, and family”.

Apart from holding the government accountable the law also requires journalists to follow “good faith obligation”.

“All journalists and media professionals must respect the rights or reputations of others and not produce material that advocates national, racial, ethnic, religious, sectarian, linguistic, cultural or gender-based hatred, which may constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence,” says the bill.

The bill also makes it liable on the “journalists and media professionals” to not engage in the “dissemination of material” that is “false or untrue”.

“The journalists who fail to fulfill obligations in sub-section (1) and (2) will be tried in accordance with the relevant laws,” says the bill.

Source: Bol

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