ISLAMABAD (APP): The three-day training workshop on the first-ever Bridge course for journalists, titled “Media & Elections” concluded in Bhurban on Friday.

The workshop, which began on Wednesday, was organized by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for capacity building of media reporters on coverage of elections.

An accrediting facilitator from Egypt Ossama Kamel, workshop facilitators Salma Hassan, and Qasim Janjua having affiliations with UNDP, and workshop facilitator, Regional Election Commissioner, ECP, Quetta Naeem Ahmed delivered lectures on electoral processes and new technologies, especially the Bridge (building resources in democracy, governance, and elections) project.

On the first day, the trainers delivered keynote lectures on the role of media, freedom of media, types of media, the role of media in elections, and the media code of conduct.

On the second day, the reporters were imparted comprehensive training on wide-ranging topics including the election commission’s overall role, the election process, polling day activities, code of conduct for political parties, security personnel, and media.

Day three discussed media coverage from international perspectives, media and gender, damages of misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech, the need to rein in online media, and how to deal with rumours.

Ossama Kamel, a master trainer from Egypt, explained the background of the Bridge project, saying Bridge was a modular professional development programme with a particular focus on electoral processes.

In December 1999, a group of prominent electoral experts from around the world met in Canberra, Australia, to discuss the potential structure and content of a short capacity-building programme for electoral administrators. They were asked to reflect on everything which, with the benefit of hindsight, they wished they had known when starting work on their first election. The knowledge they identified formed the basis for what has become the BRIDGE curriculum.

Bridge represents a unique initiative where five leading organisations in the democracy and governance field have jointly committed to developing, implementing and maintaining the most comprehensive curriculum and workshop package available, designed to be used as a tool within a broader capacity development framework.

Bridge projects have been organized in 75 countries of the world and so far 15,000 journalists have benefited from those workshops. More than 850 facilitators were serving in the project.

He said that the purpose of the project was to establish and maintain relations between the media and the Election Commission in the electioneering process.

In the session regarding media freedom, Ossama said that self-censorship was the worst form of press freedom. Democracy in a country was impossible sans ensuring freedom of the press. In a democratic culture, people have complete freedom of speech and the role of a democratic government was to tolerate criticism patiently.

He said The Forbidden Stories consortium investigated that “Team Jorge”, an ultra-secret Israeli company was involved in successfully manipulating 27 out of 33 presidential elections in the world.

Regional Election Commissioner, Quetta Division, Naeem Ahmed, while giving information about the purposes and objectives of the Election Law 2017 and its clauses, said that the process of this legislation was started on June 10, 2014.

A 33-member parliamentary committee for electoral reforms comprising all parties was formed to bring transparency in the electoral process.

A sub-committee was constituted which received more than 1,200 proposals containing 4,000 pages and 93 meetings were held to process the proposals.

This bill was passed by the National Assembly on October 2, 2017, with amendments suggested by the Senate. This law empowered the Election Commission.

The Act has 241 clauses out of which 180 clauses were inserted through amendments made in old laws, while 13 clauses related to old election laws and 48 were new clauses in the election act 2017.

The act empowered the Election Commission to take action against election staff for dereliction of duty.

He said ECP has designed a comprehensive monitoring system to monitor the electoral cycle. The final results were announced on form 49. The commission was bound to announce the results within 14 days of polling. The winning candidates would have to submit a statement of expenditures within ten days of the results. Section five of the election act provides immunity to a candidate breaking the barrier of maximum expenditures due to expenditures incurred by any supporter without permission of the candidate.

Qasim Janjua delivered a lecture on the role of media in elections while the election commission spokesperson and director of media Qurat ul Ain Fatima delivered a lecture on the election code of conduct for media. She vowed to design a comprehensive code of conduct for the media after considering feedback and suggestions from media persons.

The participants were told balanced reporting techniques and voters’ education.

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