FAFEN workshop emphasizes need for data journalism

ISLAMABAD, May 1, 2014: Pakistani media and civil society have joined hands to make joint efforts for a transparent, accountable and accessible Parliament as a prerequisite for responsive legislative governance and consolidation of democracy in the country, says a press release issued on Thursday. 

Under a Memorandum of Understanding between the National Press Club (NPC), which is a representative body of all press clubs in Pakistan, and the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a coalition of more than 40 civil society organizations, the two organizations held their first collaborative workshop on media sensitization on Parliamentary reforms at National Press Club, Islamabad. 

Attended by more than 60 Parliamentary reporters and writers, the event was jointly chaired by NPC President Shehryar Khan, President of Parliamentary Reporters Association Siddique Sajid and Director of FAFEN’s Parliament Watch and Reforms Project (PWRP) Syed Abdul Ahad. 

Under the PWRP project, FAFEN observes the Senate, National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies and gather objective data on the performance of the legislatures and the members in an effort to push for reforms that are essential to strengthen the Parliamentary supremacy in Pakistan as enshrined in the Constitution. 

FAFEN representatives gave a detailed presentation on the nature and use of Parliamentary observation data that is available with the network. The presentation also included an emphasis on the need for the use of laws that exist in Pakistan on citizens’ right to information as one way to access data that is currently not being made public by the legislators. 

After the presentation Siddique Sajid, President, Parliamentary Reporters Association was invited to speak on Data Journalism in Parliamentary Reforms. He said Parliamentary reporters, especially those belonging to electronic media, don’t have time to investigate the news as they are overburdened with their work and have to meet certain deadlines. 

He said there should be some mechanism which should decide about the fate of those questions which are time and again dropped and do not receive any answers. He gave the example of MQM’s legislator Asif Hasnain who wanted to know about the number of deaths caused by the drone attacks in Pakistan, but did not find answer to it during all 10 National Assembly sessions held so far. 

Arshad Waheed Chaudhry, Secretary Parliamentary Reporters Association, was of the view that bureaucratic hurdles do not allow the journalists to work smoothly. He gave the example of once trying to get the copy of a resolution passed by the National Assembly from the legislation branch of the Parliament but never succeeded in getting it through proper channel. However, he had to get the copy from one of his sources in just 15 minutes. 

He said media can only build pressure and the civil society must help it in getting the required data for better reporting. 

Shahryar Khan, President of National Press Club, Islamabad, said media persons should be given training before sent to the field for reporting. He criticized the devolution of sports and health ministries to the provinces after the 18th Amendment. 

He said the datasets should be closely examined as only then one comes to know how much increase or decrease has been made in the assets of the Parliamentarians. 

Later, a senior Parliamentarian and President of the National Party Hasil Bizenjo joined the discussion and made it clear that the Right to Information is the right of every citizen. He said he personally feels that there should be no bar on any journalist to cover the meetings of standing committees. Anything relates to Parliament should not be held in-camera, he opined.