PESHAWAR: Political parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from both the government and opposition sides on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution calling for enacting special legislation on the safety of journalists to expand the legal cover for protection of journalists in the province to combat violence and impunity of crimes against them.
Participating in a conference of parliamentary parties of KP Assembly on the protection of journalists conducted by Pakistani media rights watchdog, Freedom Network, representatives of various parties agreed that the only effective way to institutionally tackle crimes against journalists in the province was legislation as has been done by the Sindh and federal governments.
The meeting was attended by ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s Shaukat Yousafzai, minister for labour and culture, Nighat Orakzai of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), parliamentary leader of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Inayatullah Khan, Rifat Sardar, chairperson, KP Commission on the Status of Women, as well as presidents of the Khyber Union of Journalists, Peshawar Press Club and several senior journalists.
The resolution passed by the political parties in the conference said: “This meeting of parliamentary leaders and political parties in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, the representative bodies of KP journalists, including the Khyber Union of Journalists, Peshawar Press Club and Pakistan Journalists Safety Coalition-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chapter, and civil society declares complete support for bringing a special legislation to end impunity for crimes against journalists and media in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province at the earliest.”
It added: “All the parliamentary leaders in the KP Assembly support and agree to table a joint bill on protection of journalists in the province at the earliest session of the assembly in consultation with the journalists’ community of the province. We also emphasize our support to the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issues of Impunity, which the Federal Government of Pakistan has endorsed and approved, as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goal #16.10, which relates to freedom of expression and protection of journalists, that has also been endorsed by the Government of Pakistan, which can inform the contents of the proposed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bill on safety of journalists.”
Shaukat Yousafzai said journalists have always played a central role in strengthening democracy, particularly during autocratic periods and so they don’t deserve to be unsafe or threatened. He decried increasing violence in society as one of the key reasons for violence against journalists.
The minister supported the proposal to bring a consensus bill on safety for KP journalists as soon as possible and promised to expedite the process in the provincial assembly along with others.
Nighat Orakzai said she had already tabled a resolution in the KP Assembly a year ago for the protection of journalists that had been supported by all parties in the legislature, adding it was time to table a bill in the Assembly that should be passed by all the parties. Inayatullah of the JI said journalism is the lifeblood of society and that in a democracy it is inconceivable that journalists should be unsafe.
He added that special problems call for special solutions and a special bill is needed to protect journalists in KP but he urged that digital media also be included in its ambit. Iqbal Khattak, Executive Director, Freedom Network, said the KP right to information law has been rated among the best three RTI laws in the world and that the proposed KP law on safety of journalists must also strive to be one of the best such laws of the world because that’s what the journalists of the province deserve.
He suggested to both the government and opposition to table a joint bill in the KP Assembly instead of either a government or a private member bill.
Adnan Rehmat, a media rights activist, presented startling statistics of violations against journalists.
The statistics showed that over the past three years alone more than 60 cases of serious violations were inflicted against journalists of KP, including murders, kidnappings, illegal detention, physical assaults, injuries, intimidation and legal cases.
Arshad Khan, the KP information secretary said the government was bringing a new digital media policy that would open new avenues for the promotion of journalists who operate individually after being laid off by their media employers.
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