Pakistan imposes new censorship mechanism under pretext of protecting journalists
The devil is in the details. Approved by the Senate on November 19, the “Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021” is supposed to provide a warning and defense mechanism to journalists who feel threatened in Pakistan, for years one of the deadliest countries in the world for the media.
But there is a problem. Section 6 of this law neutralizes almost all of the protection it was supposed to provide when it was first announced by the government. This section prohibits all journalists and media professionals from disseminating “false information” and producing material that “promotes hatred” or constitutes “incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” – without defining clearly the meaning of these terms.
The law allows the government to interpret these restrictions on journalistic freedom by arbitrarily deciding what constitutes an “inducement.” Worse yet, subsection 3 of section 6 says that journalists who fail to comply with these “obligations” will be subject to criminal prosecution.
“Even when defining a program to protect journalists, the government cannot help but introduce a provision which is clearly intended to intimidate and censor them, which means that it is an unnecessary law,” said Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific office. “We call on the staff of Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari, who submitted this bill, to come forward with a new version without the absurd Article 6. At the same time, we call on the provincial governments of Pakistan to come up with their own laws. on the protection of journalists. ”
The adoption of this law by the federal parliament follows the approval of a similar law by the parliament of the southern province of Sindh in Karachi on May 28, which RSF and its partner in Pakistan, Freedom Network, then welcomed. as a positive initiative. The law of this provincial assembly does not include any preconditions for conduct, unlike federal law.
“The preconditions are not acceptable,” said Freedom Network director Iqbal Khattak. “This Article 6 must be withdrawn so that this law is not misused as is the case with the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Law, a law which is mainly used against journalists to suppress freedom of expression. . ”
Opposition Senator Sherry Rehman lamented the way the government put the final version of the bill to a quick vote on Friday (November 19). âInstead of sending bills to committee as is the norm, the government presented a sneaky extra program just before Friday prayers,â she tweeted.
Media law expert Muhammad Aftab Alam told RSF that due to Article 6, journalists wishing to benefit from the law should first ensure that their reports meet “the government’s wish list. “. The “vague and subjective requirements” imposed on journalists in article 6 could have been proposed for a code of ethics but have no place in a law, he added.
Article 6 is all the more incongruous in a law on the protection of media personnel in Pakistan as journalists are generally the targets of physical violence precisely because they have dared to discuss subjects which are effectively prohibited by the government.
It was after drawing attention to the activities of local criminal groups and, in particular, to the complicity they enjoy within the local administration, that Mohamed zada, a citizen journalist, was shot dead outside his home in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province on November 8.
And Nazim jokhiyo, a video reporter, was found beaten to death in Sindh province on November 3 after posting a video showing one of the hunting parties of a protected bird species organized by a local politician.
Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.