The death of a journalist in Swat on Tuesday underlines the need for the government to hasten its efforts in increasing protection for journalists in Pakistan. Javedullah Khan, gunned down by the usual “unknown assailants”, is just one name in a long list of media persons that have lost their lives in the last two decades; 70 in total according to some reports. Out of these, 33 have been killed in the last six years alone.

The Ministry of Human Rights has been working hard to draft a law to counter this and the many other threats that journalists face on a daily basis. Under the new law, threats of abduction, kidnapping, murder or other physical violence will be covered. But most importantly, the government is also looking to offer journalists protection from self-censorship and other forms of curtailment of free speech, because there will now be restrictions on whether anti-terror laws apply to media persons that are simply doing their jobs. Additional cover for health and safety will also be provided under the new bill.

With the government looking to follow United Nations conventions and offer protection to journalists along international standards, their serious approach to this issue must be appreciated. Now that the government has come this far and is close to offering up a final draft, it must not waver. The bill has a long way to go before it becomes law, and for any of that to happen, it must be tabled before all else. The law is exactly what is needed, although the government has decided to merge this bill with another one being proposed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This is causing undue delays. It is hoped that that the ruling party can expedite the process and provide journalists with the necessary tools and working environment to report in a free, fair and unbiased manner.