American Counsel General Lahore, Carmela Conroy, has said that the parameterization regarding the freedom of speech as defined by the article 19 of the 1973 Pakistani constitution is more relevant than the 1st amendment to the US constitution in the current outburst of information through modern technology.
Delivering a lecture at the Kinnaird College for Women on ìFreedom of Informationî, the US counsel general said that the world had not yet struck a balance between freedom of expression and rights of the people, Pakistan being no exception to it.
She said freedom of information and speech comes at a very high cost of national, international and domestic interests, at times. It is very difficult to draw a line between free speech and hate speech, she added. She said that unauthenticated and speculative information could act as a catalyst for the explosion of destruction in a fragile or critically poised scenario such as the nascent democracy in Pakistan. She said that a sense of responsibility and self restraint should be practiced by the print and broadcast media through a code of conduct devised by them.
At times, the reaction of the media towards an event is more than just a statement of facts and infringes on the freedom of privacy of the people and those being reported, yet it is a complicated task to decide the regulatory parameters, she said.
She said that although the 1st amendment to the American constitution ensured complete freedom of expression regardless of the nature of speech - be it religious or otherwise - the recent speedy, cheap and far-reaching means of information propagation had started ringing bells and raising questions, like if there should be some level of curtailing of free-speech?
Carmela quoted a case that started at a Maryland Marine’s funeral more than four years ago. That’s when seven members of the Kansas-based church protested 300 feet away from the entrance of St. John’s Catholic Church in Westminster, chanting slogans, like “Thank God for dead soldiers” and ‘The deceased is going straight to hell.’
The father of the soldier, Snyder, sued the Westboro Baptist Church for causing him extreme emotional distress. He was awarded millions as compensation, but an appeals court overturned the verdict citing ‘freedom of speech’.
This, she said, is just one incident where there is an evident collision of the freedom of speech and freedom of rights and privacy. However, she said, the free-speech law misused by anyone could be countered with the same privilege of free-speech by another person for a better reason, like it was used to convince the US pastor Terry Jones to cancel the ‘Burn Quran Day’.