Islamabad, 30 January 2018: The Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting on Monday discussed the salient features of a proposed journalist safety bill drafted by a sub-committee convened by Senator Farhatullah Babar.
Briefing the committee, Senator Farhatullah Babar said that draft has been forwarded to the Ministry of Information for feedback.
Senator Babar said that the draft bill provided the establishment of a ‘council’ comprising of members from civil society, journalist bodies, the government and a special prosecutor and it will be able to “initiate investigations into threats and attacks on journalists even from the government departments and state institutions”.
In line with recommendations submitted by Media Matters for Democracy, Digital Rights Foundation and Pakistan Press Foundation, urging to acknowledge digital safety of journalists as a serious concern and include provisions to ensure it, Farhatullah Babar said that the aforementioned council will also be responsible for developing digital safety policies and protection of online spaces for journalistic work.
Sadaf Khan, Director Programs of MMFD, met Senator Farhatullah Babar earlier this month to submit the recommendations on behalf of signatories.
In addition to the submissions, MMFD, DRF, and PPF filed a petition on January 09, 2018 with Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani urging the lawmakers to ensure a gendered approach in dealing with crimes against journalists, broaden the scope of the definition of ‘journalist’ to include freelancers and contractual employees, ensure independent investigations in online and offline crimes against journalists, and make the consultative process for proposed legislation more inclusive.
The Senate Standing Committee took up the petition filed by the rights groups in the meeting on Monday but failed to inform or notify the petitioners. “As per the SOPs, they should have called us or sent us a fax as per the SOPs,” lamented Asad Baig, the Director of Media Matters for Democracy.
Other features of the proposed bill include a journalist safety fund to assist media workers in distress, the inclusion of all permanent and non-permanent journalists, and a special prosecutor to devise policies to ensure the protection of journalists and combating impunity in crimes against journalists.
Talal Raza is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. He has worked with renowned media organizations and NGOs including Geo News, The Nation, United States Institute of Peace and Privacy International.