Monthly Archives: November 2013

All praise for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa RTI law

Activists says the post-colonial behavior of the Pakistani state is the same as the colonial state - opaque and secretive.
Activists says the post-colonial behavior of the Pakistani state is the same as the colonial state – opaque and secretive.

ISLAMABAD: Right to information (RTI) is a contested right in Pakistan as the state is reluctant to grant it to the public, said Rashed Rehman, Editor Daily Times, at the start of a two-day National Media Conference Wednesday.

He said the post-colonial behavior of the Pakistani state was the same as the colonial state – opaque and secretive.

Pakistan was the first country in Asia to have an RTI law in 2002, but it was not the result of demand from within the country. Rather, the Asian Development Bank had conditioned its loan with the introduction of such a law. The Musharraf regime enacted a toothless RTI law that conceded more than it revealed.

Discussants agreed that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s recently-promulgated RTI law is one of the most forward-looking pieces of legislation Pakistan has had. They, however, cautioned that a law is only as good as its implementation mechanism.

The KP law has also outlined its implementation mechanism but an information commission that will oversee its implementation is yet to be established. Under this law, a person can submit a hand-written application and government officials are bound to provide the applicant a certified copy of information they have requested. The law, however, excludes the higher judiciary in the province from what the public can access information about.

Zahid Abdullah, an RTI activist, said even parliament and prime minister can’t access information on certain issues in Pakistan. He said a blanket exemption to security issues is not the way to go about it.

Toby Mendel of the Center for Law and Democracy, Canada, defined RTI as a right to access information held by public bodies. He said the recent KP and Punjab RTI laws are an “incredible breakthrough” in Pakistan.

“Pakistan’s 2002 RTI law was one of the weaker laws. However, the KP law has broken the mould of Pakistani laws. It is stronger than any national law in 95 countries. It is better than the Indian law, which is one of the best in the world,” he remarked. He said Punjab’s law though isn’t as good as KP’s, it is a strong one as it is ranked 18th in national RTI laws in the world.

Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, Executive Director of CPDI, said: “Our system is exclusionary and secretive. RTI actually challenges this system that has been in vogue since the colonial times in this part of the world. Normally, everything is meant to be secret in Pakistan, except that has been declared otherwise. It ought to be vice versa.”

Though he said the KP and Punjab laws are a step in the right direction, he took a swipe at the federal RTI law that has unanimously been passed by the Senate. One of the defects of the federal law is that it gives parliament a blanket exemption, he said.

Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas lamented journalists’ ignorance of the RTI laws in Pakistan. “Until they know the law, they can’t make any use of it.”

Another session titled ‘Pakistani media, graveyard of trainings?’ discussed how successful NGO sector’s media training efforts have been. Over the last few years, some 15-18 organizations have trained about 4000 journalists in Pakistan. According to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the total number of journalists in the country is 18,000.

“But it seems these numbers haven’t translated into quality journalism in Pakistan so far,” observed Adnan Rehmat, chair of the session.

Senior journalist Shahzada Zulfiqar highlighted how poor law and order was impacting media professionalism in Balochistan. “One feels as insecure in the provincial capital as in Khuzdar and other militancy-hit regions,” he said and added that journalists from interior Balochistan are not so well-educated and thus are in need of more trainings than others.

Iqbal Khattak, Daily Times bureau chief in Peshawar, noted how fierce competition of breaking news was endangering journalists’ lives.

Panelists agreed that trainings should be customized as per needs of various parts of the media industry and apart from reporters, desk staff too need to be trained.

The conference, organized by the Individualland Pakistan, concluded on Nov. 28, 2013.

(Published by here)


Express Tribune shows the way


The Express Tribune is the first ever newspaper in Pakistan that has developed a style guide to be followed by its reporters, writers and editors. Other newspapers and media outlets here either have no specified style or they follow some foreign style book at best.

The prestigious Dawn newspaper, however, is said to have an internal style manual but some members of the staff are unaware of it. Neither is it publicly available.

The institution of style guide is important to maintain the quality of language at a publication. “The good thing about a style guide is that it’s always right. It’s your view on how things should be done,” writes Ian Jolly, style editor at the BBC.

While there are different, and sometimes contradictory, styles in use at various media houses, consistency can only be achieved if a publication religiously follows a specific style. Otherwise, their reports will keep alternating between, for example, programme/program, fuelling/fueling and so forth.

The Express Tribune has, once again, taken a lead over other publications in Pakistan to compile a brief yet impressive style manual. The paper’s language is less-clichéd than others’ is, and with an exciting design and a thriving online presence, it is shaping the future of print journalism in Pakistan.

“Our print and web editions have made their mark on the media scene not only because of distinctive design but also quality of its content. To continue to work towards maintaining these standards, we thought it best to publish our style book,” writes Kamal Siddiqi, the editor, in the introduction to the style guide.

“It has always been our practice to set standards in the media industry. And this book will help clear the path for others to follow.”

As a keen reader of this paper, I can tell the editor that they have been quite successful at setting standards in print journalism in this country. However, the challenge for The Express Tribune is to institutionalize the style guide and to constantly update it.

While other print and online publications should follow The Express Tribune’s lead, what the paper itself can do is to establish the institution of the readers’ editor. A readers’ editor addresses readers’ complaints. It is a self-regulatory mechanism to redress errors, whether editorial, factual, or ethical. The best example is the Readers’ Editor at The Hindu.

Another thing that our editors and institutions can greatly benefit from is the Guardian style guide on Twitter where Guardian’s style editors answer editing and style-related queries in a fun way.

(This write-up was originally published at Journalism Pakistan here.)