Five of Pakistan’s biggest press clubs and other platforms including four regional and a central union of journalists in partnership with Pakistan Press Club Safety Hubs Network has set minimum benchmarks for safety of news-providers across the country demanding special legislation from federal and provincial governments to protect journalists facing increasing threats to their lives, families and media houses.
This is for the first time that Karachi Press Club, Lahore Press Club, National Press Club (Islamabad), Quetta Press Club, Peshawar Press Club and Dera Ismail Khan Press Club organized World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2016, with a joint focus on safety of journalists and media houses, with technical support from Freedom Network, Pakistan’s first media dedicated watchdog monitoring press freedom, freedom of expression, journalists’ safety and civil liberties since 2013.
At these special WPFD2016 programs, each of these press clubs and unions of journalists passed a landmark unanimous resolution urging support of federal and provincial governments for legislation to fight back the deep-rooted culture of impunity of crimes against media and journalists entrenched in Pakistan. Only three cases – two Pakistani and one foreigner – of over 100 journalists murdered since 2002 have so far been successfully investigated and perpetrators identified, trialed and convicted.
The resolution at each of these press clubs and unions reads:
- “We, the Journalists, express concern at the various kinds of pressures and intimidation of journalists and media houses for several years that have been endangering the lives of journalists and hurting the journalism profession all across Pakistan.
- “We state that Pakistan cannot be a democratic state if there is no free media. And there cannot be free media if journalists are in danger and facing threats. We cannot allow the media and journalists to remain under pressure because this will affect the quality of our democracy.
- “Therefore we, jointly, request the Government of Pakistan to draft a ‘Pakistan Journalists’ Protection and Safety Bill’ at the federal level, and provincial bills by each of the four provinces [by the provincial governments] at the earliest for support of all the parties represented in the parliament and the provincial legislatures for their passage as laws to provide a legal framework to safeguard journalists in the country and its provinces.
- “We demand that the proposed bills include provisions of the appointment of a special prosecutor for journalists’ safety with an office, staff and budget who can work full time on dealing with cases of attacks on journalists and media houses.
- “We demand that while drafting the proposed bills, active consultations be held with representative bodies of media, including Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and other major stakeholders such as key press clubs, Pakistan Coalition on Media Safety (PCOMS) and political parties, legislators and civil society.
- “We believe that media and parliament rise and fall together. Without a functional, professional and safe media, Pakistan’s democracy cannot be functional, professional and secure. It is the duty of all of us, including media and government, to work together to make media and journalists all over the country safe and professional.”
The unanimous passage of the resolutions at these five centers make the case for special law on journalists’ safety the top most priority both for the journalists’ and media community and the government. The federal government has already been working on draft law for journalists’ protection and welfare. However, the unanimous resolution will help make the well-articulated case of the Pakistan Coalition on Media Safety (PCOMS) stronger for such law at the provincial level also.
Under the Pakistan Press Club Safety Hubs Network program that Freedom Network is implementing for International Media Support (IMS), advocacy is a key tool for pushing the agenda of journalists’ safety in Pakistan towards real-time implementation. However, Freedom Network volunteered to organize these special meetings in collaboration with partner press clubs, regional union of journalists and safety hubs.
At a sixth press club in Dera Ismail Khan, also part of the Safety Hubs Network program, as well at the National Press Club, the journalists brought out rallies after the WPFD2016 programmes. People from a cross section of the society participated in these programmes, expressing solidarity with the journalists. Local media widely covered these WPFD2016 programmes. Key government officials, including the Sindh provincial governor and the adviser to Balochistan Chief Minister on information also attended and expressed support. National Press Club Safety Hub Manager Saeed Ahmed later that night represented the Safety Hubs Network programme on state-run national TV channel PTV discussing the WPFD2016 and the landmark resolutions.