Welcome Relief for Journalists?

Journalists have good reason to cheer the passage of the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, by the National Assembly because it is a welcome departure from the threat of the grotesque Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) that was hanging over their heads till their stiff resistance knocked it off. All that remains is for the Senate to pass it into law, which is surely only a procedural not political matter now, and then the era of harassment, intimidation, abduction, torture and also murder of reporters and correspondents should be a thing of the past. Or would it?

The human rights ministry should no doubt be appreciated for tabling this bill, but this is a sudden and very surprising change of tactics by the government, practically on the eve of campaign season, so the proof of this pudding will have to lie in its eating. It’s very sad, to begin with, that journalists require the formation of a commission, the most essential feature of the said bill, to look into complaints ranging from threats and arbitrary arrests to mysterious disappearances and even torture and murder when laws already exist to deal with just such situations. The problem has always been implementation of the law. And as such there is nothing to suggest just yet that one more law will make the relevant government machinery spring into action whenever a journalist’s rights are trampled upon.

And since this community’s rights are being eroded at a very fast pace in this country, these are very relevant concerns. Media watch organisations all over the world have expressed concern at the way journalists’ safety is being compromised in Pakistan, which is now considered among the least safe places for this community in the whole world. That the situation has worsened to this degree in PTI’s (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s) time is a very big disappointment since before the election this party acted like only it understood the place of a free media in a vibrant democracy. Yet all promises of letting the press do its job, especially restructuring PTV (Pakistan Television) on the lines of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), took very little time to disappear into thin air. Instead, this government has not only been hounding journalists, but also doing what it can to restrict freedom of expression on social media. Nobody has a problem as long as you are supporting the government, but the minute you go off-script it’s as if you’ve become a national security threat simply by putting the spotlight on those in power.

The spectre of forced disappearances of journalists is another big problem, and it hasn’t gone away during this electoral cycle. There was even an incident, not too long ago, when an Islamabad-based journalist not known for his love for the PTI government was taken away by a few people not far from his house; only for all agencies to express complete ignorance about the matter. Yet surprisingly, the honourable court took notice of it and ordered whoever took him to return him within a stipulated time period; and, sure enough, he was back doing his job very quickly.

If the latest bit of legislation can address some of these issues, then it will bring much-needed change to the lives and work of journalists; which is sure to benefit society as a whole.

Source: Business recorder

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