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Journalists Safety, Welfare and Protection Bill

This blog has been written by Umaima Ahmed, Member of  DRF’s Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights.

As times have progressed and the world has become digitized,, there has been a need to incorporate digital rights in the human rights framework which has resulted in giving online security and privacy as much importance as physical rights.

After print and electronic journalism we have recently seen a boom in digital journalism. According to many journalists print media is almost at the verge of extinction and digital journalism is the thing that would exist in the future.

Interestingly, there is no real definition of digital journalism. Anything that is posted in text, audio or video form by journalists and media houses is known as digital journalism; the reason for media houses shifting to digital journalism is that information travels faster than traditional methods.

The media industry in Pakistan has seen a mushroom growth in the past few years and this includes online journalism also. A large number of people are hired in the industry, many on minimum wage as this is the beginning – these journalists are not provided proper security and protection yet are working in challenging situations. The PML-N government presented a ‘Journalists Safety, Protection and Welfare Bill’ in the parliament to provide better working conditions and facilities as well as a secure environment to journalists.

The bill must focus on journalists who are affiliated with digital journalism as they are the front line soldiers in digital spaces but have no secure working environment and forum for their welfare and are vulnerable to any sort of attack, not only physical but also online. These journalists use all digital mediums like apps, emails, social media accounts, video and phone calls to stay updated and communicate with people. There is a need for the government to devise a mechanism where journalists in digital space are safe.

However, it is not only the responsibility of the government but also of the media houses to create a policy in building protocols for digital safety and conducting regular trainings to update journalists on how to keep themselves secure in online spaces. It is important that the media houses own their employees if any threat or problem arises and must protect them.

According to UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Data of journalists need to be protected and provided with secure tools to communicate. Capacity building of journalists must include encryption and other ways to protect communication that journalists have, particularly with sources. In Pakistan this is not possible as Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s policies and regulations are quite complex and can be a problem for journalists even to use VPN to communicate anonymously.

While talking of digital security for journalists we must remember that female journalists work this field also and they feel that they do not have a secure environment while using online spaces not only to voice their opinions but also share news. They face threats, harassment and are even verbally abused by trolls, who make it very hard for them to work in such unfavorable circumstances. Along with the government the media houses need to formulate policies for protecting female journalists and training them in security in online spaces while providing gender sensitivity trainings for all journalists. The need for an active workplace harassment commission that women can refer to when they are in such a situation is strongly felt and needs to be addressed.

The government must incorporate the suggestions and recommendations submitted by journalists and civil society organizations on the draft bill of journalist safety, protection and welfare bill. With online threats posing an additional challenge for journalists and media freedom, it is important that the bill addresses this and also takes into account the specific challenges faced by women journalists.

Considered the fourth pillar of the state the Media is under constant surveillance and threat from all quarters and resultantly many media houses have had to reduce the size of their operations and layoff human resource which is creating issues for the already expanding rate of unemployment in the country.

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