LAHORE, Feb 3: The South Asian Free Media Association (Safma) on Friday called for implementation of recommendations of a judicial commission on journalist Saleem Shahzad’s murder.
At a roundtable discussion at the South Asia Media Centre, the participants said the commission failed to clear the “well orchestrated confusion and cover-up” on Shahzad’s murder, which they feared could encourage the perpetrators of such heinous crimes to keep journalists from performing their duties fearlessly.
However, they found the commission’s report useful in evaluating causes of tension between intelligence agencies and the media. They said the commission rightly observed that “uncovering the truth before the public is very much in our national interest. In fact, the truth itself is in our national interest”. They praised the commission for taking note of what it called the problem of “opaqueness” because of the absence of a well defined legal framework to govern the intelligence agencies. They supported the commission in its call to the parliament and the armed forces for implementing remedial measures both by intelligence agencies and the parliament to help smooth relations among the media, citizens and security agencies.
The Media Commission-Pakistan and Safma endorsed that a reconstituted Press Council should ensure that the media do not violate professional ethics. As proposed by the commission, the “agencies remain law abiding” and the parliament “lay down a comprehensive statutory framework — perhaps a Pakistan Secret Service Act”. As proposed by the commission, agencies should be made accountable at three levels: “within the agency and before the minister-in-charge, before the parliamentary committee (and thus the parliament and the public)” and before a judicial forum.
Internationally recognised standard operating procedures should be introduced for internal administrative accountability, keeping them away from such duties as press censorship, liaison with political parties and the conduct of foreign policy. Changing their work culture, as recommended by the commission, agencies should be made accountable to the parliament.
The commission has proposed a judicial forum such as Human Rights Ombudsman to redress grievances of anyone who complains of misconduct by intelligence officials. The participants included Safma secretary general Imtiaz Alam, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan director I.A. Rehman and political commentator Khaled Ahmed. Dawn
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