THE much cherished freedom of expression or the independence of media stems from the people’s right to know. The media being the medium that informs the public about issues related to governance and running of the state affairs, wedded to the cause of improvement in the life of the masses, is therefore under greater obligation to ensure that the information passed on to the people is true, authentic, unbiased and all segments of the society are duly represented. All the ethical and professional codes of conduct drawn by the representative journalist entities and the regulatory mechanisms put in place by the governments all over the world invariably emphasize these traits and fundamental requirements in regards to the role of the media.
The first ever ethical code drawn up by the American Society of Newspaper Editors of US in 1930in regards to truth and accuracy prescribed “Good faith with the reader is the foundation of good journalism. Every effort must be made to assure that the news content is accurate and free from bias. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) dilating on the subject says “Respect for truth and for the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalists. The journalist shall regard as grave professional offences the plagiarism, malicious representation, slander, calumny, libel and unfounded accusations. Social Responsibility Theory propounded by Hutchison Commission in 1947 which is considered as ‘Magna Carte’ for the ethical codes of the modern media emphasizing the same principles justified government interventions where the media crosses the Rubican saying “Freedom comes with Responsibility”.
Seen in the backdrop the foregoing, the media landscape in Pakistan regrettably is not very enviable. While it zealously guards its independence, it is not fulfilling its obligation of social responsibility. It is highly polarized with the result that the public is not being informed in an unbiased manner. A private media channel unfortunately is persistently engaged in blackmailing and maligning the government and its functionaries on the basis of fabricated and unsubstantiated charges of corruption as well as hurling allegations of being anti-state at one of its rival channels, notwithstanding the fact that its allegations have been given a lie by a court in UK and several of its outlets closed for spreading disinformation.
The worst example of misuse of the freedom of expression by that channel was a report claiming corruption in Multan Metro—involving a Chinese Company—pointing an accusing finger towards the Chief Minister of the province, Shahbaz Sharif. It was alleged that the Chief Minister had made billions from kickbacks from the Chinese company Jiangsu Yabaite Technology Co. Ltd in the Multan Metro bus Project. The story was sold as a hot cake and even the PTI Chief Imran Khan found it convenient to unleash scathing attack at the Chief Minister reiterating his often unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against the Sharif Family. But as it turned out in the end and as confirmed by the Chinese Embassy, the company never operated in Pakistan. That confirmation has completely exposed the irresponsible and malicious behavior of the concerned TV channel as it reported the issue without verifying the facts. In that context the Channel has also betrayed trust of the people.
The real story about Yabaite Technology Ltd. is that the company received US$ 17.78 million from some offshore companies in Mauritius, Singapore, Malaysia and Dubai in the first quarter of 2016. As it was an unusual profit, the Chinese Securities and Regulatory Commission (CSRC) started inquiry into the matter. Since the company claimed to have received the money from Pakistan saying that it worked on Phase-III of the Multan Metro Bus Project through its partner M/S Capital Engineering under an arrangement with Habib Rafiq Private Ltd, the CSRC wrote to SECP for confirmation or otherwise of the claim made by the concerned company. Thorough investigations into the episode by SECP and CSRC have revealed that the concerned company produced fake and fabricated documents to the latter. It is a clear cut case of money laundering by the concerned company and reportedly the government of China is taking action against it for the committed crime.
What the concerned Pakistani TV Channel propagated is something very serious that represents breach of all the ethical and professional codes of conduct for the media and does warrant appropriate action under the relevant laws. The government being under obligation to make sure that all the institutions and entities operating within the confines of the geographical boundaries of the state carry out their activities in conformity with the relevant prescribed rules, must take serious notice of this indiscretion by the media channel and also initiate the process of dialogue with the media entities for the strict enforcement of the professional and ethical codes of conduct for the media and respect for the relevant regulatory laws in vogue at the moment. There is no concept of unbridled freedom of expression for the media anywhere in the world. Freedom of expression or independence of media are subservient to people’s right to know and the media cannot and should not under any circumstances indulge in misinforming or misleading the people. Media needs to understand that to enjoy the promised freedom it has to act in a responsible manner. That is what is meant by freedom of expression.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.