Media Muzzled in Pakistani Kashmir

image zafar iqbalBy Zafar Iqbal

The uppermost court in Azad Jammu and Kashmir has banned the publication of news about it without its permission. All editors and media publishers in Pakistan and its part of Kashmir  received an order from the Supreme Court that they can not publish any matter about the court, except  issued by the  body itself. In this regard, official press note  said that in recent days some news items were published in Pakistani press about the Chief Justice (CJ) AJK Supreme Court and other judges which are ‘damaging the credibility of the institution’,

On the other hand, media bodies term it as assault on freedom of press. Journalists say that court can not issue such orders as it is similar to obstruct the media to perform their duties. Journalists were also stopped to cover the trial of a contempt of court case against their three fellow journalists who are facing a trial in the top most court of Azad Kashmir.

The AJK Supreme Court is hearing a case of ‘Contempt of Court’ against three Kashmiri journalists, Chief editor Shakeel Turrabi, Editor Sardar Aashiq and reporter Amin Butt, who published news about ‘the misuse of power ‘of the top most judge, Riaz Akhtar, who allegedly increased the marks of his daughter in annual examination of 9th class by reportedly ‘pressurizing and intimidating’ the officials of a special body which conducts school exams in the region.

The Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Riaz Akhtar says that the marks of her daughter were increased when she availed her right for application for re-checking of papers. He says that his daughter was not awarded more marks due to the portfolio of her father as being the Chief of judiciary; rather the awarding body corrected and improved her marks. He dismissed the accusation of wrong doing saying  that he believes  on equal justice and stand that nobody is beyond the law, however, he justified that he issued orders that all news about the Supreme Court must be confirmed from the apex body, arguing that ‘it is also a requirement of impartial and subjective journalism’

On the other hand, SANA, the news agency which released the news insists that the report about the alleged increment of marks of judge’s daughter was authentic and accurate and they have documentary proofs with them. Its web site claims that ‘all standards and ethic of journalism were followed before filing the report and the Chief Justice was also contacted by the reporter before filing the matter’

Ironically, the Chief Justice of Supreme Court AJ&K is hearing the case against the journalists in which he faces media’s allegations of violating the law. Commenting on this situation, lawyer Sardar Zia rejects that a judge can hear the proceeding of the case in which he himself is a party. Legal experts say that it is against the law and against the spirit of the justice that a judge is amongst the bench which is hearing a case against him. As a result, the presence of the CJ in the bench which is hearing the case against the journalists is now challenged by a panel of lawyers in the court.

In AJK, this is not the first time when journalists are facing legal actions by higher courts because of the publication of some reports about the accusations on judges as they exercised the misuse of powers. In recent years, some journalists have faced similar cases on publishing the alleged wrong doings and use of extra judicial powers by the judges.

Four years ago, two Kashmiri journalists were arrested on the charges of publication of an investigative story about the corruption of judiciary. Both were arrested in the court when they were facing the charges of   ‘Contempt of Court’. The police severely tortured both the journalists as a result of which an eye and ear of Khawar Nawaz, the Chief Editor of an Urdu Weekly and leg of Raja Shafiq, reporter of Daily Ausaf, were injured. The court also banned the publication of the weekly, Nawai Hurriat(The voice of Freedom) which, according to judges, published “libelous and fictional material with a view to lowering the prestige and harassing the members of the superior judiciary.”

In Pakistani administrative   Kashmir and  Pakistan, judiciary, like military,  is considered a ‘sacred cow’ in public and media so  it is rare and dangerous for journalists  to publish any news about the wrong doings of the judiciary, which like other departments  is  criticized by public for corruption, embezzlement and abuse of powers. A latest survey -National Corruption Perception Survey TI Pakistan 2009, conducted by International watchdog Transparency International included judiciary amongst top ten most corrupt departments of the country, however, there has been remarkable improvement in Judiciary in recent years. As compared to 2006 when it was ranked 3rd most corrupt sector, in 2009 Judiciary is ranked 7th.

The Pakistan Press Council ordinance promulgated by former Musharraff government was rejected in home and abroad by media and civil rights groups because of its excessive powers of defamation clauses. So stakeholders of Pakistani media industry-journalists, government and media owners failed to conceive any measures to address the problems which arise in the publication of disputed matter in which parties have strong divergences.

In such circumstances, working journalists have to face unnecessary judicial enquires hearings and sometimes, the arrests and fines as well. In this background, the establishment of an independent self -regulatory Press Complaint Commission (PCC) in Pakistan is an urgent need. It is hoped that, apart from protecting the journalists from excessive measures of different state organs, PCC would facilitate the elevation of the standard of journalism and promote the culture of transparency and accountability in the society.

 (The writer is freelance journalist and activist.  He could be accessed at:        zafarjournalist@gmail.com )

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