There is indeed no doubt about the fact that the freedom of press and freedom of information is the key to a healthy society as well as a healthy democracy
A First Information Report (FIR) is a written document prepared by police organisations in Pakistan when they receive information about the commission of a cognizable offence. An FIR is an important document because it sets the process of criminal justice in motion
An FIR was registered in Balochistan against a major TV news network. Here are some details as given by The Asian Human Rights Organisation’, based in Hong Kong: “An FIR against a leading channel covering news was filed in Balochistan. The Balochistan government has registered a case under the Anti-Terrorism Act against the chief executive and three other employees of a television channel, ARY Digital, for releasing a documentary about the attack on the former residency of the father of the nation. The three other employees are the Executive Director, Owais Tohid, the Quetta bureau chief, Shahid Hameed Rind and the Islamabad bureau chief Sabir Shakir.”
The FIR was a shocker. Almost all media men vocally and emphatically denounced the move. Dr Danish of ARY digital was seen at the top of his histrionics, denouncing the Balochistan government, and in particular Chief Minister Malik Baloch for such an action. He almost clearly felt betrayed for having laid confidence on a ‘commoner’, Mr Malik on becoming the chief minister. Dr Danish found almost every reputed journalist standing firmly in his support and so did the majority of the civil society.
There is indeed no doubt about the fact that the freedom of press and freedom of information is the key to a healthy society as well as a healthy democracy. It is also true that both, particularly the media, have a very high responsibility on what they communicate and what perceptions they create. Unfortunately, the media in Pakistan is no less immature than the democracy. The media barons, and their wiz kids often race for communication leadership trampling the flowers of decency, grace, sensitivities, moderation and ethics. In this perspective the role of the media has been barely adequate. However, the media built itself into a huge power. Some media persons reaped rich personal harvest as well. The ones who oblige are those who find themselves vulnerable, for example the politicians, businessmen, even crooks. This is where discretion only shows the moral integrity of the individual or his institution. Media is a formidable force, it yields huge power and in proportion to its power exist the possibilities of inherent corruption in it.
In the recent years the media in general and some specific journalists and channels had a rollicking honeymoon with the judiciary and the Supreme Court in particular. This affinity increased the power of both. This honeymoon was enjoyed by both and if anyone had a complaint, he or she, preferred to gulp it for fear of repercussions and even the ‘contempt of court’ proceedings.
This honeymoon bond between the two powerful institutions, the judiciary and media, continued for quite a long time, but some hairline fractures are becoming noticeable. Both are beginning to look at each other with caution. Journalists are compelled to associate with ground realities as these appear and one of these realities is the increasing criticism of the conduct of the Supreme Court, including the frequency and choice of its suo motu. A Supreme Court, which has been used to absolute praise, bordering on flattery, has been surprised at the criticisms, and the eyebrows have risen. One is now compelled to ask: is the honeymoon going to be over?
Let us look at the latter part of the newspaper reports: Dr Abdul Malik Baloch said he had been told that the case was registered on the directives of the Supreme Court, but the registrar of the apex court later clarified that the court had not issued any directive for filing a case against the private TV channel on charges of showing footage of the attack on the Quaid’s residency at Ziarat in June.
The statement by CM Balochistan and some others indicates some sort of a go-ahead by the Supreme Court. It may be proved wrong in the investigation, but many would continue to believe that there is little love lost between the Supreme Court and the media community now.
In any case no honeymoon between powerful institutions is good. The judiciary and journalism are both extremely noble professions. Fortunately, the judiciary is more trained, even better educated, and groomed to maintain its bearings. Journalism has had a big burst in a short time in Pakistan. Most of the journalists are in the learning process as to how this power is to be handled and what their social responsibility is. A conscientious journalist will watch every word he writes and every second that he/she communicates from the screen. The business has to be much more than financial competition. It is about social responsibility, information, education and nationalism. There were lessons in the work of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Hamid Sheikh and men of that stature. There may still be some of my age group (really few I suppose) who have survived and could provide a lesson or two from their works. The political comments need even greater sense of responsibility. For the owners who are in for a buck and blackmail power that cannot be expected from them. The genuine media owners must make the decision as to what side they want to be. No honeymoon is proper in such noble professions as the judiciary and journalism. The relationship needs to be of mutual respect but not compromising on principles.
In any case apart from the philosophies or ethics, it is just not right that the police be sent after the media while more civil recourses are available. Whoever did it should not have done it and it was good that the journalist community stood by each other, but it will be wrong if this community gets intoxicated by its power.
The writer is the former CEO Pakistan National Council of the Arts; Chairman Fruit processing Industries; Chairman UNESCO Theatre Institute Pakistan and COO ICTV, USA. He is the author of Melluhas of the Indus Valley 8000BC to 500 BC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org