Journalist Safety Bill: Include threats to women & digital journalists; petition civil society groups

ISLAMABAD, 9 January 2017: Media Matters for Democracy, MMfD, Digital Rights Foundation, DRF and Pakistan Press Foundation, PPF, have filed a public petition for Chairman Senate, Senator Raza Rabbani and Covener subcommittee, Senate standing committee on information and broadcasting, urging them to take threats to women journalists and perils in the digital world into consideration while drafting the ‘Journalist Safety Bill’.

Through the ‘Journalist Safety Bill’, the legislators seek to develop special mechanisms to deal with crimes against journalists.

As per details, the Senate Standing Committee on Information Broadcasting and National Heritage formed a three-member subcommittee in November 2017, under the convenorship of Senator Farhatullah Babar to draft the aforementioned legislation, after it rejected a draft ‘Journalist Safety and Welfare Bill’ proposed by the federal government.

On 4th January, the subcommittee called a meeting to consult with the stakeholders, however, perspectives from a number of advocacy groups working on issues specific to the safety of women journalists and the digital threats were missed out.

The petition, filed after the meeting, calls upon the Senate to ensure true inclusiveness by engaging with a wider range of stakeholders, in particular, the National Human Rights Commission and civil society groups working on digital safety and hygiene and those working directly with women journalists on physical safety and related issues. 

The petition asks for the inclusion of threats specific to women journalists and asks for the criminalisation of digital crimes against journalists under the special legislation. The petition also urges the Senators to “not to rush through the legislative processes”.

Recommendations on the digital safety of journalists to Senate Subcommittee

Separately, MMfD and DRM have also submitted their recommendations for the bill to the Convener of the Senate subcommittee, Senator Farhatullah Babar.

One of the key recommendations is to broaden the definition of ‘journalists’ so to ensure the inclusion of those practising journalism independently through digital mediums and the freelancers. It urges the Senate not to “overlook those who are using digital mediums to practice their trade”. 

Taking stock of the rising digital threats to journalists in the form organized campaigns calling for violence, illegal online surveillance and the data thefts, MMfD’s recommendation urge that digital attacks are also made liable for investigation through special mechanisms under the law. 

Threats to women journalists 

Taking note of the threats faced by women journalists,  the recommendations note that women journalists are often missed out from the journalist safety debate and any special mechanisms that deal with crimes against journalists shouldn’t be developed without keeping in consideration the myriad of threats faced by the women journalists on a daily basis.   Thus “any legislation for journalist safety has to ensure that its premise is not limited to physical attacks, but actually includes all kinds of threats and mechanisms that are being used to push journalists [including women journalists] away from their spaces”, the recommendations read.

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