“The Sindh Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners Bill 2021” was passed by the Sindh Assembly on May 28. Among its provisions, the bill envisions the creation of a “Commission for Protection of Journalists and Other Media Workers” to proactively protect journalists under the law. Drafted in consultation with journalist representative organisations, including the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the bill empowers this commission to produce an annual report on the “State of Safety and Security of Journalists and Media Practitioners in the Province of Sindh”.
One of the governer’s objections on the bill was understood to be the absence of a finance committee or third party audit to monitor the income and expenditure of the commission. He also pointed out “contradictory provisions” about the governance of the commission, arguing that one point of the bill allows the commission to formulate its own policy and law while in another area places the authority in the government.
Among the notable elements of the bill welcomed by the journalism fraternity was that it required employers to provide adequate insurance and training for media workers “at risk of being attacked, injured or killed because of their work” and provision for protection of news sources. It also made the government responsible for the protection of journalists, including through legal assistance. Media organizations also hailed the bill’s provision that sought protection of journalists from arbitrary misuse of law against them.
A joint meeting of senior journalists and media stakeholders, including representatives of the Karachi Press Club (KPC), all factions of the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ), media watchdog Freedom Network, and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) held on June 24 raised concern for the rejection of the bill and urged the Sindh assembly to pass the bill again.
The journalist community agrees with the governor’s argument of having third party to supervise the finance of the commission, but also argues for the independence of the commission by allowing it to formulate its policy and laws independently without the interference of government.
The IFJ said: “The passing of the Sindh journalist protections bill was a great milestone in Pakistan’s media development but it is concerning to see the bill blocked in this way. The IFJ urges the Sindh assembly to pass the bill again based on consultation with media fraternity.”