Protection of Journalists and Media

Professionals Act, 2021

ISLAMABAD   -   The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday directed the Ministry of Human Rights to submit its response in a petition challenging the Section 6 (Good faith obligation of journalists and media persons) of the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021.

A single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Athar Minallah issued the directions while hearing Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) petition challenging the definition of ‘journalist’ as well as Section 6 of the said act.

During the hearing, the court was informed that the human rights ministry did not file its reply despite having been given a month’s time for the purpose. Then, the court directed the ministry to submit its comments on the next hearing and deferred the case till April 12 for further proceedings.

PFUJ Secretary General Nasir Zaidi filed the writ petition through Journalists’ Defence Committee (JDC) of Pakistan Bar Council (PBC).

The petition contended that Section 6 of the said Act was neither in consonance with the preamble of the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021 nor with the Constitution of Pakistan. According to the petition, “this provision violates the general principles laid down by the constitutional court for imposition of restrictions on the constitutional rights and freedoms, particularly the right to freedom of speech and expression and information as guaranteed under Article 19 and 19A of the Constitution.”

Previously, Justice Athar said that it is true that the act would provide protection to the journalists but there is acute ambiguity in the language of the Section 6 of the Act and it would give license to register case against the journalists.

He remarked that prima facie, it seems that subsection 3 of Section 6 is violation of basic human rights and directed the Human Rights Ministry to satisfy the court that it is not violative of Article 19 and 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan.

Justice Athar said that photojournalists and camerapersons also fall in the category of journalists and their work is also very important. He said that the representatives of Human Rights Ministry have assured the court that amendments would be brought in the Act and Article 19 and 19-A would be fully implemented.

The section 6 of the said act defines the good faith obligation of the journalists in the following terms: (1) All journalists and media professionals must respect the rights or reputations of others and not produce material that advocates national, racial, ethnic, religious, sectarian, linguistic, cultural or gender-based hatred, which may constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. (2) All journalists and media professionals must not engage in the dissemination of material known by such an individual to be false or untrue. (3) The journalists who fail to fulfil obligations in sub-section (I) and (2) will be tried in accordance with the relevant laws.

The petition contended that through the impugned provisions, the Respondents have embarked on an illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional exercise of interpretation of constitutional provisions, particularly Articles 19 and 19A of the Constitution, which is the sole prerogative of constitutional courts under the doctrine of separation of powers.

“Furthermore, the members of the Respondent No 2 (Ministry of Human Rights) are in any case not qualified to interpret and determine the scope of legal and constitutional provisions.

The petition also raised question over the exclusion of photojournalists and camerapersons from the definition of ‘journalist’ in the Act and maintained that excluding photographers and camerapersons from the definition of the ‘journalist’ tantamount to undermine the profession and role of photojournalism in informing and educating citizens.

Therefore, the petitioner prayed to the court to declare that the impugned vires/provisions are ultra vires and inconsistent with and in contravention of Article 4 of the Constitution as well as the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Articles 9, 10A, 14, 18, 19 and 19A of the Constitution, hence null and void ab initio.