Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights organized a provincial level one-day learning event on the 3rd May 2017 in Lahore to share the results of the quick mapping study, media trainings held in Multan and Bahawalpur and DOF reports generated from DOFs’ Multan and Bahawalpur chapters. More than fifty participants comprising journalists, civil society activists and religious scholars from Bahawalpur and Multan, Members of the Punjab Assembly, human rights activists, minority rights defenders from Lahore also attended this event.
Members of the Punjab Assembly Azma Zahid Bokhari, Parliamentary Secretary for Department of Information, and Mr Awais Qasim Khan appreciated JDHR for its efforts to promote interfaith harmony and peace in the society. The Member Punjab Assembly Mr. Awais Qasim Khan said that “it is our collective duty to end hate and discrimination from society so that we can take all on board the development process in the country”. The Member Punjab Assembly Azma Zahid Bokhari said that any mob cannot be given the right to take law in their hands and decide the fate of the people in the streets. “It is the prerogative of the courts to decide the cases on merit instead of giving this power to any charged crowd”.
The participants discussed and agreed to a set of recommendations as way forward to continue working to achieve the objective of peace and tolerance in society. They called upon the editors and publishers of the religious and mainstream media to promote messages of interfaith and intersect harmony to build a narrative of peace and peaceful co-existence. Religious publications need to promote the vision of universality and humanity without discriminating or ridiculing beliefs of the people hailing from other religious and sects. There is a need to bridge gap between religious publications and mainstream media so that the nation gets true information, and the non-tolerant thoughts are eliminated from the discourse as desired by the National Action Plan 2015.
While publishing funding/charity appeals, the religious publications and mainstream news media need to focus on safe charity, telling their readers/viewers that they should doubly sure to whom they are giving money in the name of charity to discourage charity sums going to extremist groups who are creating bad name for the Muslims and Pakistan. There is a need to develop and follow through a code of conduct for religious publications/magazines and mainstream media in line with the spirit of the National Action Plan 2015 to curb publication and broadcast of discriminatory or hate material against other religions or sects, the recommendations said.
The participants appreciated that the government of Punjab has banned some of the publications using religion as shield to project their extremist agenda. There is a need to monitor the content published in religious publications under the press and publication and defamation laws of the land as is done in case of the mainstream media to ensure that discriminatory or hate material is eliminated from these publications.
The Ministry of Information in Punjab may introduce courses for religious and mainstream media outlets (especially Urdu) on ‘Media for Peace and Development’ so that they are trained on how they can promote development, peace, interfaith harmony for the good of the country and help eliminate hate and discrimination in line with the National Action Plan (NAP). The training may build their skills in critical thinking, objective reporting, and reducing biases in writings.
Instead of creating propaganda literature containing hate and discrimination, the editors and publishers of religious magazines/publications should serve the nation by contributing articles on Pakistani citizenship, humanity and universality advocating for the right to live in a peaceful and dignified manner and without any discrimination and hate.
Since hundreds of years, various sects have been extending their literature without creating hate and violence with the spirit of tolerance and inter-sectarian harmony, there is a need to revive the same spirit now as inciting violence in the name of sectarian differences is causing damage to Pakistan and Muslims, the participants recommended.