Punjab Govt’s Ban on Officials from Speaking with Media Unconstitutional: JDHR
The Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights (JDHR), a public interest independent think tank has Tuesday condemned the ban imposed by the government of Punjab on all its officials from interacting and speaking to media under a new ‘Protection and Communication of Official Information’ rule. The action is a violation of the spirit of the Article 19 of the Constitution.
“Forbidding government officials from talking to media is a mockery of ‘Freedom of Information law’ and ‘Right to Know of the People’ that apparently exhibits that the government of Punjab might want to hide information from the people amid fears of being exposed,” said Shafqat Munir, president of JDHR.
It is a shame that under Rule 46 of the Punjab Government Rules of Business 2011 recently circulated among all provincial departments, the officials have been warned against communicating with journalists in violation of the spirit of the Freedom of Information Law which exits at federal level and there is a demand that similar laws should be adopted in provinces to ensure people’s access to information and public official documents, added Mr. Shafqat.
“Though the rules provide space for government spokespersons to speak to media in a formal way, but all avenues of in-depth and investigative reporting have been shut down and now only stereo type information through press release will come and media will be deprived of playing its watchdog role,” JDHR president said.
The Rule that will harm the freedom of expression says:
(1) A government servant shall not communicate any information acquired directly or indirectly from any official document or otherwise to the media, to non officials, or to officials belonging to other government offices, unless he has been, generally or specially, empowered to do so.”
(2) The chief secretary shall issue detailed instructions about treatment and custody of official documents and information of a confidential character.
(3) Ordinarily, all official news and information shall be conveyed to media through the Information, Culture and Youth Affairs Department, in the manner, generally or specially, prescribed by the Department.
(4) The ministers, secretaries and such other officers as may be authorized shall act as official spokesmen of the government.
“With circulation of the rule, even the officials from home, police, health, irrigation, revenue and other departments that fall under the Service and General Administration Department declined requests for information from media. This anti press stand may not protect the rulers in Punjab from public criticism by shutting up mouths of their officials,” said Shafqat.