Islamabad: (PPF) On March 18, Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) met with President Dr Arif Alvi to discuss the Draft Protection of Journalists and Media Professional Bill, 2020 during which the president expressed satisfaction over the draft Bill. President Alvi commented that the draft Bill was good which should be finalized at the earliest while incorporating minor changes advised.
During the meeting, President Alvi asked the representatives of the various ministries about the status of the Bill. He also offered advice on making changes to clauses related to the formation and responsibilities of the Commission recommended by PPF and advised that the section of the draft Bill pertaining to the welfare of journalists be elaborated.
The meeting held at Aiwan-e-Sadar in Islamabad was attended by Ministry of Human Rights Director General Abdul Sattar, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Director General Manzoor Ali Memon, President Secretariat Director General Sohail Malik, Director Media/Press Secretary to President Athar Muneer and PPF’s Fellowship Editor Ghazala Fasih.
During the meeting, a representative of the human rights ministry said that the draft Bill had been amended and the ministry of information had incorporated clauses pertaining to the welfare of journalists. DG Information Ministry told the President that the draft Bill has been sent to the law department for vetting.
In her presentation, PPF’s representative Fasih gave President Alvi an overview of the situation. Fasih said that the protection of journalists remains a concern in Pakistan where they face risks including acts of intimidation, harassment, violence and in some instances death. She said PPF has been engaged in documenting threats to the media and has documented seventy-five deaths of journalists in the line of duty from 2002-2020 and those involved in crimes against journalists enjoy impunity for their actions.
Fasih referred to the Committee to Protect Journalists Impunity Index in which Pakistan is listed amongst the worst countries in terms of killing of journalists and failure to bring those responsible for these murders to justice. She further stated that countries like Mexico and Colombia faced the same situation, however, they have had success in overcoming this problem by forming safety mechanisms through legislation.
Fasih informed President Alvi of the review process of the Draft Bill that PPF had undertaken which included a review by international law experts as well six consultative sessions with senior journalists, members of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders. In light of these meetings, a policy paper was produced. Fasih said that the initial draft Bill presented by the human rights ministry had been appreciated particularly the suggestion to form an independent Commission.
The President asked why those behind attacks on journalists enjoyed impunity and asked how this could be when the rule of law was equal for everyone. He also questioned having a separate law for journalists.
President Alvi observed that giving a sentence to criminals according to the severity of the nature of the crime could work. He referred to punishments recently given to rapists.
With regards to a clause regarding protection from abusive, violent, and intolerant behaviour, President Alvi observed that a 14-day period to provide protection to the aggrieved should be shortened. He advised that immediate action should be taken.
Discussing the role of the Commission, he inquired about its powers. Sattar informed him that the Commission had judicial powers and he elaborated upon the procedure in detail. President Alvi was satisfied with the powers of the Commission.
Fasih stated that PPF, in its recommendations, had suggested that the criteria for appointing the chairperson of the Commission be expanded to include judges of the Supreme Court and high courts as well persons qualified to be judges of the Supreme Court, which the President agreed to and advised that it could be included.
Director General of the information ministry said that his ministry had reviewed the draft Bill after the human rights ministry sent it to them. He told President Alvi that previously the information ministry had prepared the journalists safety bill, the clauses related to welfare of journalists have been added to the draft bill and it has been sent to the law ministry. The president expressed his satisfaction over the procedure.
The meeting concluded with the presentation of PPF’s policy paper to the president of Pakistan.