ISLAMABAD: The Senate Committee on Information and Broadcasting has rejected the Bill on Safety of Journalists and set up a three-member sub-committee to draft a legislation in consultation with stake-holders which will be tabled as private members bill in case the government did not own it.

The decision was taken in a committee meeting chaired by Senator PML-Q Kamil Ali Agha. Senators Nehal Hashmi of PML-N, PPP’s Karim Ahmad Khawaja, Mian Ateeq Sheikh of MQM, Sardar Azam Khan Musakhel of PkMAP and Farhatullah Babar of PPP attended the meeting.

Deliberations on majority of agenda items was deferred due to unavailability of Minister for Information and secretary information. The sub-committee, comprising Senators Farhatullah Babar, Nehal Hashmi and Khushbakht Shujaat, was tasked with completing the draft legislation within two months.

The decision was taken during a briefing on the government bill which the information ministry said had already been sent to the PM House for approval to place it before the cabinet in its next meeting.

The cabinet approval is mandatory before a government bill is tabled. Taking exception to the government bill, Senator Babar said it did not address the central issue concerning the safety and protection of journalists. The bill, he charged, merely paid lip-service and made a vague declaration about the ‘security of tenure’ and ‘congenial working conditions’ for journalists.

“Security of tenure is one thing and security of life of media persons from attacks by state and non-state actors quite another he said. Journalists need security and protection from murderous assaults,” he contended.

He said the UN provided guidelines in this regard and asked the information ministry to follow the guidelines which call for setting up a Special Public Prosecutor to pursue in courts cases of assaults on journalists.

Presently, a great impediment in providing security to journalists is that they are left to fend for themselves and neither the government nor the media houses come forward to protect them, he said.

While the cameras and equipment are insured, the young men and women behind the cameras are not, he said. He said the government bill lectured the media persons on international best practices in the discipline of journalism instead of their safety and protection. This is not acceptable, he said. The committee asked the Press Information Department to share details of its over 800 employees along with province-wide representation in the department. –Courtesy The News

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