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EDITORIAL: It’s about time that a serious, comprehensive debate on at least three issues — which came up as the chief justice (CJ) fumed at the incompetence of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Islamabad police over harassment of journalists and an alleged conspiracy against the superior judiciary — was triggered by the top court itself.

One, the FIA clearly scheming – for want of a more appropriate word – to use the judiciary to clamp down on freedom of speech; in this case journalists accused of orchestrating a campaign against the CJ himself. But, as the CJ made very clear, since neither any judge nor the SC registrar had made such a complaint, FIA’s action reeked of a plan of its own to drag the judiciary into a conveniently stitched together case to keep certain elements in line, as usual. Hence the question, “Why not act against the FIA for defaming the judiciary?”

This is not an isolated incident, of course. And while there’s no question of ever allowing any disrespect for any respected pillar of the state, there’s long been a need to draw a line beyond which outfits like the FIA must not be allowed to use their muscle to achieve aims that undermine the law of the land. So, as this case moves on, the bigger question is whether it will also set a lasting precedent of keeping investigating agencies within their limits?

Two, how far, exactly, does the right to freedom of speech really stretch? CJ Isa rightly lamented that all media outlets, without exception, aired former Rawalpindi Commissioner Liaqat Chattha’s allegations without bothering to follow the first rule of journalism – verifying information before presenting it. It’s also true that, for all its benefits, social media also serves as a platform for amplifying fake news, propaganda, false allegations and outright lies at the speed of light. So, while the CJ noted that Article 19, which guarantees freedom of expression, is still not a licence for complete freedom and is subject to the law, when will this bit in the constitution take a more codified, quantifiable form so the law can finally decide when it is being exploited?

And three – and perhaps most important – what has the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 really got us except politically motivated cases that lead to needless harassment of individuals and waste everybody’s time, especially the courts’? This space argued vehemently against it when it was instituted during the PML-N government, and then again when the PTI government – which opposed it in 2016 – bent over backwards to give it more teeth during its own tenure.

The advocate for the Press Association of Supreme Court reporters rightly reminded everybody – as did this space, repeatedly – that laws against contempt and disrespecting the judiciary are already in place, and giving FIA jurisdiction over them will only ensure that they are misused more often than they are not. Surely, that ought to be unacceptable in any functioning democracy with an independent judiciary.

Yet here we are.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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KU Mar 14, 2024 07:58pm
The defaming is a recent phenomenon for politics/protest. People's confidence in justice went south many decades ago, in the absence of social media then, opinions and truth were selected over truth.
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