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November 23, 2020 - Updated on November 24, 2020

Pakistan should consult press freedom groups on Journalist Protection Bill

Journalists stand maintaining social distancing in a demonstration to mark the World Press Freedom Day during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Islamabad on May 3, 2020 (photo: Farooq Naeem / AFP).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Pakistan’s federal government to consult media defence organizations about the content of a bill for protecting journalists that it claims to have finished drafting. Consultation is essential and, without it, the proposed law will probably fail to achieve its goals, RSF says. Even more so in Pakistan than in other countries, this issue is too important to be neglected.

Information and broadcasting minister Shibli Faraz announced on 10 November that the government has finalized a Journalist Protection Bill that will soon be submitted to parliament. Unfortunately, the government has not published the text of the bill or shared it with leading media stakeholders.

 

“We call for consultation by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government before a final draft of this bill is adopted in cabinet,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We hail this initiative but we remind the Pakistani authorities that consultation with press freedom defence organizations in Pakistan and internationally is absolutely essential. A poorly drafted law has every chance of being, at the best, sterile or, worse, counter-productive.”

 

Special prosecutors

 

RSF has itself finalized the drafting of a proposed Pakistani law on the protection of journalists in association with its local partner, Freedom Network, and in consultation with representatives of various Pakistani journalists’ unions, press publishers and civil society.

 

The proposed bill incorporates many of the recommendations of the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, adapting them to the Pakistani context. It includes provision for the creation of special prosecutors, at the federal level and in Pakistan’s four provinces, to combat impunity for crimes of violence against journalists.

 

A year ago, on 12 November 2019, Sindh province information and broadcasting minister Saeed Ghani said the provincial assembly in Sindh, Pakistan’s second most populous province, would almost certainly pass this proposed law without any changes.

 

Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.