ISLAMABAD: A free and robust press is the backbone of a democracy, said Supreme Court (SC) judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa on Monday, while explaining the importance role of media freedom in a fair society.
During Supreme Court Press Association’s oathtaking ceremony, Justice Isa said in his speech, “Informed citizens, including journalists, can better identify wrongdoing in governance and demand accountability. And, if those exercising power know that they are subject to public scrutiny, they are less likely to abuse power.”
Furthermore, the SC judge remarked that it was a “testament to [the journalists’] integrity” that they were taking oath as journalists, unlike public servants including judges, members of the armed forces and lawmakers, were not legally obliged to do so.
“I pray that you have the strength to abide by the oath and withstand outside pressure,” he said. “How very different this country would have been if oaths were abided by.”
The judge further remarked that all citizens were granted the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Constitution.
The 18th Amendment, which relates to the right to access to information in all matters of public interest, made press freedom “more effective”, he added.
The top court justice spoke on the need for a disinterested and unbiased press. He recalled how, in 1991, he had written an essay titled ‘Freedom for the Thought We Hate’. In this, Justice Isa had cited a PTV news bulletin for airing the then-interior minister’s criticism of an opposition leader’s speech, while the speech itself was not shown by the state TV channel.
“Presenting only one side of the story, broadcasting selected messages and controlling the media is not permissible,” he remarked. The judge also quoted a judgement by a former chief justice of the Sindh High Court Ajmal Mian in which the latter wrote: “It is unfortunate to observe that the broadcasting corporation and television corporation have not been able to establish their credibility as independent organs.”
Citing the words of Quaid-e-Azam, he said that Mohammad Ali Jinnah had spoken against the Press Act during the British rule, and had firmly stood in support of the protection of journalists “who are doing their duty”.
After independence, the country’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan helped Pakistan become one of the first 48 signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the aforementioned Article 19. Justice Isa said that this was “an auspicious beginning” for Pakistan.
“Is this commitment and guarantee of free press burning or is it being extinguished?” he asked.
The judge cautioned that if citizens surrender their right to free speech, they would soon be robbed of other rights as well.