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September 29, 2020

Press, backbone of democracy, not free: Justice Isa

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September 29, 2020

ISLAMABAD: A free and robust press is the backbone of democracy, while a democracy without a free press quickly descends into an empty world, with its principles reduced to hollow ideas, said Supreme Court Judge, Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

He was addressing the oath-taking ceremony of the Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS) as the chief guest here on Monday. Justice Isa said that the media was not free in Pakistan, adding that presenting only one side of a story, broadcasting selected messages, and controlling the media was not permissible.

“In 1991 when I was still a lawyer, I wrote an article titled ‘Freedom for the thought we hate’ in which I mentioned the 'PTV’s Khabarnama', which had broadcast the minister for interior’s criticism of the leader of the opposition’s speech, which was never allowed to be broadcast on the state media back then. Presenting only one side of a story, broadcasting selected messages and controlling the media is not permissible,” Justice Isa said. He recalled that Fatehyab Ali Khan, President of Pakistan Mazdoor Kisaan party, filed a petition with the Sindh High Court against Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and the Pakistan Television Corporation seeking equal coverage of political parties. He said in his judgment, Chief Justice Ajmal Mian wrote, “It is unfortunate to observe that the broadcasting corporation and television corporation have not been able to establish their credibility as independent organs. The respondent corporations being public functionaries are expected to act in a fair, just and equitable manner and to treat all alike as enjoyed by Article 4 of the Constitution.”

In Pakistan, Justice Isa said freedom of the press was stipulated as a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution adding they were not favours to be bestowed on the people. He said violating fundamental rights was a violation of the Constitution. “Obedience to the Constitution is the inviolable obligation of every citizen. Anyone curtailing it is an enemy of the people and of the Constitution, and must be held accountable,” Justice Isa said. The judge said a free press was vital to disseminate the voice of the people and it was also necessary to expose injustice, wrongdoing, corruption and high-handedness. “Almighty Allah also enjoins that we speak up against injustice, wrongdoing and corruption, to countenance restrictions on free speech and expression offends an essential article of the Islamic faith,” Justice Isa added.

Referring to the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Frontiers, Justice Isa said in 2017 and 2018 Pakistan stood at the very low 139th position in terms of Freedom Index, it then slipped to 142nd position in 2019 and now has plunged to a shameful 145th position. Earlier, Justice Qazi Faez Isa administered oath to the newly elected body of Press Association of the Supreme Court (PAS).