While the Pakistan Tehreeek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is terming the newly-introduced Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals law as an achievement, journalists who have been victims of violence in Pakistan say the new legislation will do little to protect media persons.
Journalist Asad Ali Toor, who was attacked on the same day that the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill was passed from the National Assembly in May, says that Articles 19 and 19A of the constitution already protect freedom of speech and expression and the right to access information but these laws are not implemented.
Toor was attacked by three unidentified armed men who entered his apartment and questioned him about his sources of funding. He had said the attackers identified themselves as belonging to an intelligence agency.
Asad Toor says the real issue is not the absence of laws but that those involved in attacks on journalists are never apprehended. “No amount of legislation will be able to stop attacks on and violence against media persons if this culture of non-accountability for the perpetrators continues,” he says. He added that he doubted the government’s intentions to protect journalists as it is involved in inciting violence against them in the first place.
What does the law promise?
The legislation is meant to protect and safeguard the rights of working journalists. It provides a comprehensive definition of what constitutes a journalist or media person. Further, it aims to safeguard the right to life and the right to work without threats, intimidation, harassment, or fear of persecution. Section 4 of the law protects the right of the confidentiality of sources of journalists and media persons.
This law comes in the backdrop of increasing violence and hate directed at journalists in Pakistan.
In April, Absar Alam, a senior journalist based in Islamabad, was shot while out for a walk at a park near his home. Alam survived the attack but no arrests have been made in the case.
In July 2020, prominent television journalist Matiullah Jan was abducted by unidentified men outside a school in the capital and was released after being held for 12 hours at an undisclosed location. Jan said that he was bound, gagged, and beaten during this period.
While talking to Friday Times, Matiullah Jan said that the newly enacted law would not do much to improve the grave situation. He lamented that such action had been taken in the past as well, such as the formation of COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES, but nothing substantial had been achieved as a result of these except temporary international face-saving for the government. In July this year, the Reporters Without Borders listed Prime Minister Imran Khan as one of the world’s 37 worst rulers when it comes to press freedom.
Since 1992, at least 61 journalists have been killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Earlier, Pakistan’s women journalists had united against online hate and signed a petitions seeking action from the government. During the coronavirus pandemic, mainly targeted women journalists who were raising their voices and questioning the government’s strategy during the pandemic. Apart from serious threats and abuse, women journalists had personal data leaked and faced constant hacking attempts of social media accounts.
Journalist Amber Rahim Shamsi gathered women journalists facing online abuse and together they issued a statement, condemning the attacks, which was signed by 160 women journalists.
Senior News anchor Gharida Farooqi says she has faced extreme online abuse by the ruling party trolls. She added that she has six or seven such cases pending before the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), including one against a sitting minister, but no action was being taken. Farooqi complained while talking to Friday Times that difficulties for journalists had increased manifold since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came into power, and the mere passage of laws is not enough if implementation remains missing.
Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries on the media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 World Press Freedom Index.