SPEAKING at the opening ceremony of the new judicial year 2019-20, Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa expressed the fear that growing perception about, what he referred to, “lopsided process of accountability” needed urgent remedial measures to save it from losing credibility. He said that recovery of the stolen wealth of the citizenry is a noble cause, and it must be legitimately and legally pursued where it is due. The honorable CJ also noted that voices are being raised about muzzling of print and electronic media and suppression of dissent. “It must be appreciated by all concerned that a voice suppressed or an opinion curbed generates frustration, which gives rise to discontent, and increasing discontent poses a serious threat to the democratic system itself”. CJP’s speech was indeed a fair and comprehensive response in regard to administration of justice. However, media and political parties would interpret it according to their whim and fancy.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa did not blame the government or any institution in his address. However, there is a general perception that many cases against PPP and PML-N leaders are under investigation by the NAB and are in the NAB court, but only a few cases against the members of the ruling PTI. The performance of NAB can be judged by the conviction rate, which is abysmally poor. Former PM Nawaz Sharif was convicted on the basis of the case registered after Panama leaks and JIT formed by the apex court; and one has yet to see conviction under NAB law against Shehbaz Sharif, Hamza Shehbaz, Khwaja Saad Rafique and Salman Rafique and others. As regards muzzling of media, not a single instance has been mentioned by any local media organization, except the removal of three television channels from the country’s airwaves for a while.
It is indeed mockery of democracy when during President Arif Alvi’s address in joint parliamentary session on Wednesday on the eve of starting a new parliamentary year the opposition members continued raising slogans near the Speaker’s dias because he did not issue production orders of members that were behind the bars and facing charges for corruption and amassing wealth beyond means. What sort of democracy is it in Pakistan, as nowhere in the world including India and entrenched western democracies, there is a tradition or law to issue production orders allowing those facing serious criminal or corruption charges to attend the Parliament session. Anyhow, it would have been better if Speaker had issued production orders especially when Pakistan wanted to send message to India and the world that the entire nation is united so far as solidarity with Kashmiris is concerned. Unfortunately, both the Government and the Opposition failed to showcase that unity.
As regards freedom of expression, it is the most abused freedom in Pakistan, as not only statements by the convicts are aired but propaganda is also unleashed against the judiciary and the military, which is violation of Articles of the Constitution. Recently, the nation witnessed the press briefing by the PML-N leaders that also showed the audio and video content meant to blackmail the judge. In the international sphere, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has tried a number of media-related incitement cases (e.g., TV channels and print platforms distributing suspects’, terrorists’ and criminals’ interviews for the public). In all these cases, the ECHR carefully examined on a case-by-case basis as to whether media reporting was done to glorify criminals (e.g., by providing a platform for preaching hate and violence), or whether such reporting was done in spirit to inform the public at large about the perils of such ideology.
In February, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) claimed to have put in place a monitoring system against those spreading extremism and hatred on social media, and said it would not wait for any complaint to take action against any individual or group, as legally it can take cognizance against anyone for committing such an offence. Recently, a New York Times correspondent James Risen disclosed that some American newspaper of great repute regularly corroborate with the US government to thwart the reporting that top officials do not want to make public. Unfortunately, it happens only in the underdeveloped countries that media takes it as its insult to seek guideline or to get clearance from the government before publishing some sensitive story about strategic, security or other related issues. Incidentally, Pakistan tops the list of those states where anchorpersons, analysts and panelists transgress those rules.
Journalistic independence, write Kovach and Rosenstiel in their book “Elements of Journalism” that Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. While editorialists and commentators are not neutral, the source of their credibility is still their accuracy, intellectual fairness and ability to inform – not their devotion to a certain group or outcome. The “journalistic truth” is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, subject to further investigation. Journalists should be as transparent as possible about sources and methods so that audiences can make their own assessment of the information. Conscientious journalists rely on a professional discipline for verifying information. While there is no standardized code as such, every journalist uses certain methods to assess and test information. This discipline of verification is what separates journalism from propaganda, advertising and fiction.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.