Contested legislation

The manner in which the Defamation Bill, 2024 was bulldozed on the floor is highly disturbing

May 22, 2024


The Punjab Assembly seemed to be in a deadly haste in legislating over the brink. The manner in which the Defamation Bill, 2024 was bulldozed on the floor of the house with no concern for some of the valid points of rules of business, and legal impediments, is highly disturbing. This time around even the principal subject i.e. the journalist community was also not taken on board, and pleas from them to go a little slow so that conventions could be overcome with due coordination were thrown to the wind, compelling the media to dub it as a ‘black law.’

The intention of the beleaguered government was to come down hard on disseminators of ‘fake news’, and there was no objection to it from across the divide, per se. But the opposition as well as those from the treasury, who are seasoned and knew the art of legislation, were taken back at the break-neck speed as the bill was made to sail through without even going to the standing committees. Last but not least, all amendments proposed by the opposition were also turned down.

The draft had been at the heart of controversy since its inception as it was choreographed as a tool to gag the Press, especially social media. It goes without saying that a section of netizens have exhibited irresponsibility while opting to people’s journalism, and had subdued the ethics of decency by propagating false and sensational stuff. That could, and should, have been addressed in all solemnity and perfection by letting the intricate process come full circle.

The impression that this impugned legislation has gathered as an attempt to ‘curb free media’ will take a while to overcome. The onus is on the treasury to revisit it and make necessary amendments, as desired. Freedom of speech and information is duly guaranteed by the Constitution, and any attempt to sidetrack it by introducing statutes will not go well with the society. It is incumbent upon the ruling strata and the opposition to realise that the society has already had enough of polarisation.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2024.

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