Feb 2

Justice and Reform

Posted on Friday, February 2, 2018 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Justice and Reform

The sincere efforts of Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Saqib Nisar, to provide succour to those in most need of it are laudatory. His instruction to judges to speed up trials in cases involving rent, succession, family matters and stay orders, is very welcome indeed. Nor should anyone dare take his suo motu interventions in the public interest lightly. For the same reason, we would like to draw His Lordship’s attention to a couple of issues that are worrying.

Justice Nisar did right by challenging Dr Shahid Masood, a TV anchorperson, to prove his shocking allegations regarding the rapist-murderer of little Zainab. No one should be allowed to make political capital out of a tragic incident, least of all a congenital liar. In this context, however, we do wish he had summoned the editor of this newspaper to record his views along with the other journalists last Sunday, not just because we have suffered at the hands of Dr Shahid Masood but also because our journal and its editorial staff enjoy some repute at home and abroad and have paid the price for speaking truth to power. It would be a miscarriage of justice if Dr Masood were to get away by blustering and threatening and go back to plying his dirty trade all over again.

Dr Shahid Masood is one of the originators of the “35 punctures” lie that was laid at the door of our editor three years ago when he was appointed Caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab following a consensus between the government and opposition of the day. This lie went viral and caused his family, friends and him much pain and suffering. It also served to erode the credibility of this paper. We sued Dr Masood for defamation but he has neither apologized for the lie nor proven the charge in court, despite the fact that the Judicial Commission under ex-CJP Nasirul Mulk rubbished the allegation of electoral rigging and “35 punctures”. Is it too much to ask, we wonder, that Justice Nisar order the case languishing in the Sessions Court for the last three years to be transferred to the SC and clubbed with the current one under investigation so that we may have the satisfaction of finally getting justice?

Much the same sort of anguish has been caused by ex-cricketer Sarfaraz Nawaz who has launched a vilification campaign against the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, who happens to be our editor. We have sued him too and the sessions court has placed a gag order on him pending adjudication of the matter. But he continues to hurl abuse at will in the media and is lodging vicious, baseless and trumped-up charges in various forums. Accordingly, we have sent a letter to NAB detailing evidence of his attempts to extract personal financial gain from the PCB Chairman and vilifying him when he refused to do his bidding. Would it not, therefore, be in the fitness of things if justice Nisar could also urge the lower court to speed up the case and compel Sarfaraz Nawaz to provide evidence of “fixing”, or apologise and shut up? Such allegations undermine the credibility and ability of PCB management to run the Pakistan Cricket Board and revive Pakistan’s cricketing fortunes by bringing international cricket back home and showcasing the country in a positive light.

We admit that such matters can also be dealt with under the existing defamation laws if – and this is a big IF – the lower courts were to adjudge cases fairly in the stipulated six months. Alternatively, since defamation has now become a media epidemic and is threatening to irrevocably damage civil society and the body politic, Justice Nisar may consider setting up special summary courts to deal with defamation matters. PEMRA is too overburdened to cater to this pressing requirement of state and society – at any rate its judgments are still subject to the courts which are unfortunately quick to grant Stay Orders that end up thwarting the course of justice instead of advancing it.

Of course, we have made mistakes. But we have never shied away from apologizing when we were wrong. Indeed, we would like to think that, by and large, we have showcased independence with responsibility in the media for over 35 years. Regrettably, that cannot be said of many others in the profession of journalism. The explosion of electronic media has changed the dynamics of this profession. In the stampede to “break news”, there is no time to check facts or bother about the unintended consequences of airing “fake news”. That is why defamation is so common. Left unchecked, this can amount to a form of blackmail and coercion for corrupt and immoral ends. More critically, it undermines the basis of trust that is a core factor in the nourishment of civil society in a developing democracy.

We urge the Supreme Court of Pakistan under His Lordship Justice Saqib Nisar to clear the path to reform and justice in Pakistan.