The Punjab Assembly has just proposed the Defamation Bill 2024, which has sparked significant controversy and outcry.

The proposed act seeks to mitigate the dissemination of false information through various media channels, including print, electronic, and social platforms.

The measure aims to tackle the widespread problem of misinformation on popular platforms such YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It focuses on both news that intrudes upon personal privacy and content that disturbs the public sphere.

Special tribunals will be created to accelerate the processing of defamation cases, with the responsibility to decide them within a period of six months.

The measure contains a provision that states impacted persons will receive a compensation of Rs 3 million. In addition, the government will offer access to a legal team to assist those who are pursuing defamation lawsuits.

Notwithstanding the petitions made by journalistic organisations to postpone the measure, the government has chosen to proceed, highlighting the pressing need to tackle the issue of fake news.

Notwithstanding the government’s endeavours to address misinformation, the legislation has encountered substantial resistance. Journalistic organisations, who held a meeting with the provincial minister of information, requested the government to delay the measure, expressing concerns over press freedom and the necessity for additional debate. Nevertheless, their request was declined.

The bill faced substantial resistance in the Punjab Assembly. They have proposed more than 10 modifications, contending that the measure, as it stands, presents substantial threats to freedom of speech and has the potential to suppress opposition.

Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman supported the law, highlighting the importance of implementing strict measures to address the dissemination of false information, which he identified as a risk to both social stability and personal reputations.

“The bill is crucial for maintaining the accuracy of information and safeguarding citizens from the harm caused by false information,” he declared.

Response from the opposing party
The opposition has expressed its discontent, suggesting over 10 revisions to the law. The legislation’s controversial nature is anticipated to incite additional deliberation within the chamber.

Journalists demonstrate against the law.
Arshad Ansari, the President of Lahore Press Club, expressed vehement opposition to the recently introduced Defamation Bill 2024 during a press conference held outside the Punjab Assembly.

Arshad Ansari disclosed that a gathering of all journalist associations took place at Lahore Press Club yesterday to deliberate on the ramifications of the bill. At the gathering, everyone agreed to protest against what they perceive as a harsh and oppressive action to control the media.

He stated that the government has consented to convene with representatives of journalists in order to reach a resolution. Nevertheless, he voiced doubt regarding the government’s motives, highlighting the frequent failure to deliver on earlier commitments.

The President of Lahore Press Club announced that all journalist associations would collectively demonstrate, placing strong emphasis on unity. “We will establish a comprehensive plan for this countrywide demonstration,” he stated, guaranteeing a synchronised reaction in opposition to the proposed legislation.

Ansari remembered that during the government’s time in opposition, they backed journalists in their resistance to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) legislation. He condemned the government for altering its position now that it holds authority.

“Today, the government asserts itself as the foremost proponents of democracy,” Ansari commented, emphasising the paradox of their endorsement of a policy that is widely seen as lacking democratic principles. He claimed that implementing restrictive legislation would not be effective in suppressing the media.

Ansari cautioned that the implementation of the law would disturb the operations of the Punjab Assembly. “By making this decision, the Punjab Assembly will cease to function, and we will also cease to function,” he proclaimed.

PA faces intense opposition and public outcry.
The Punjab Assembly session commenced with a delay of precisely 2 hours and 24 minutes. During the session, there was a notable opposition protest against the recently introduced defamation bill.

The session began with Speaker Punjab Assembly Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan presiding.

The opposition, under the leadership of opposition leader Malik Ahmad Khan Bhachar, vehemently objected to the defamation measure, resulting in a tumultuous situation in the House. The opposition members chanted chants like “Black law disapproved” and “Black deed disapproved” to express their dissatisfaction with the legislation.

Opposition members participated in a synchronised demonstration, where they prominently showcased signs expressing their strong opposition to the law. The atmosphere was filled with tension as the opposition vehemently opposed the defamation measure, arguing that it violates freedom of speech and journalistic integrity.

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