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Punjab Assembly’s Rushed Defamation Bill Raises Concerns

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The Punjab Assembly’s swift passage of the Defamation Bill, 2024 has sparked significant unease. For instance, the bill was introduced and passed within a single session, bypassing the usual process of referral to standing committees for detailed scrutiny. This hasty approach, without due regard for valid points and legal impediments, has raised serious concerns. Furthermore, the failure to engage the journalist community in the process and dismissals of pleas for a more coordinated approach have led to the bill being labeled as a ‘black law’ by the media.

Even those well-versed in the legislative process were taken aback by the Punjab Assembly’s rapid advancement of the Defamation Bill. The bill’s progression without referral to standing committees and rejection of all proposed opposition amendments has not only surprised but also disappointed both opposition and treasury members, who expected a more thorough and comprehensive approach.

The draft of the bill has been contentious from the beginning, as it was seen as a tool to suppress the press, particularly social media. For instance, one of its provisions allows for the swift removal of any content deemed defamatory, without proper investigation or verification. While acknowledging that some netizens have exhibited irresponsibility in their citizen journalism by propagating false and sensational content, it is believed that a more thorough and comprehensive approach should have been taken to address this issue.

The perception that this legislation seeks to ‘curb free media’ is not one to be taken lightly. It casts a shadow over the bill and raises serious concerns about the future of freedom of speech and information. There is a pressing call for the government to review the bill and make necessary amendments to address these concerns. Any attempt to bypass the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and information through new statutes will likely face strong opposition from society. It is crucial for both the ruling and opposition parties to recognize the need to avoid further polarization in society.

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