close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!
September 26, 2020

RTI query that brought journalists’ safety on cabinet agenda

Top Story

September 26, 2020

ISLAMABAD:In February this year, Iqbal Khattak filed a Right to Information (RTI) request to the Cabinet Division asking how many times the issue of the growing number of murders, attacks and intimidation of journalists was taken up by the federal cabinet since the installation of the present government.

As many as 62 cabinet meetings were held by the time when the Executive Director of Freedom Network, Khattak sought details. As many as seven journalists had been killed, 15 were facing cases of police and FIA, five were abducted and more than 100 other press freedom violations were reported---all in the first 18 months of the PTI government of which duration the information was sought.

Instead of answering to the information request, the Cabinet Division opted to remain silent until Khattak moved Pakistan Information Commission, the appellant forum against the public bodies denying citizens’ legal right to know as prescribed in Right of Access to Information Act, 2017. The Commission, which has been empowered with judicial authority to enforce its directions issued the order for the provision of information demanded by Khattak.

However, what came out was quite intriguing. The details shared by the Cabinet Division only on August 26, 2020 revealed that as many as 62 meetings of the cabinet were held during the period of September 1, 2018 to January 30, 2020 and at no point the subject (issues of safety of journalists and impunity of crimes against media) was on the agenda during the time interval under reference.

“[A total of] 62 meetings of the [federal] cabinet were held during the period of Sept 1, 2018 to Jan 30, 2020. The subject [issues of safety of journalists and impunity of crimes against media] was not on the agenda during the time interval under discussion,” the Cabinet Division’s Section Officer Jamil Ahmed officially communicated through the Federal Information Commission.

Call it a coincidence or pressure of RTI request, the issue was put on the agenda in the 67th meeting of the cabinet. “The subject was, however, on the agenda of the cabinet, in its meeting held on Feb 25, 2020,” further reads the reply of the Cabinet Division. Khattak terms this oblivious attitude of the government quite alarming. “It is alarming that the highest governance forum in the country – the federal cabinet of ministers – remained oblivious to the aggravated level of violence against journalists and other information practitioners, including murders and attacks, and did not even bother to discuss the matter once in 62 meetings,” Khattak said in a statement issued here late Friday.

“This official disregard to violence against the media and its practitioners is a direct contributory to the high levels of impunity that attackers and intimidators enjoy in Pakistan, putting the country in the list of top 10 most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism, according to international media watchdogs,” he added.

Khattak said as long as Pakistan did not commit itself in practical terms to protecting journalists and fighting impunity, the country will continue to fail to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #16.10, which seeks to guarantee access to information and safety and security of journalists and other information practitioners. “Pakistan must not fail in achieving the SGD 16.10 goal it has so robustly committed to,” the Freedom Network executive director said, urging Prime Minister Imran Khan to urgently materialise his promise made in a tweet in April 2020 to soon table a bill on safety of journalists and other information practitioners that the federal government has already drafted but kept pending for a long time now.

The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issues of Impunity was endorsed and approved by the government of Nawaz Sharif when then minister for information and broadcasting Pervez Rashid was part of the Plan’s launch in Islamabad in October 2013. This plan includes a commitment to introduce a special law on safety of journalists.

Over 130 journalists have been killed and more than 2,000 attacked, injured, arrested, kidnapped or intimidated since 2000 in Pakistan, according to detailed investigations and documentation maintained by Freedom Network.