Zealots stupidly make a mess of a real issue
At a breakfast meeting in Islamabad with former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, some TV anchors and a former Radio Pakistan Head discussed politics and much more a few days ago.
Within days, many of these peers filed a petition in Islamabad High Court against PEMRA directives to ban speeches on TV of some convicted politicians, especially, Nawaz Sharif.
Originally the petition was meant to challenge PEMRA and whether it was a genuine constitutional regulatory body. The issue was perfectly legal and substantive since PEMRA is also working as a dozen other regulatory authorities, which are truly not independent, or autonomous but work under various ministries.
But since the speeches and video outbursts of PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif were recently banned on Pakistan TV channels, being hostile to the Army and in many ways defamatory, the petition appeared as if it was to bail out Mr Sharif; the original issue got overshadowed.
Many senior petitioners including Mr I.A. Rehman, M Ziauddin, Zahid Hussain, Ghazi Salahuddin, Zubeida Mustafa, Nasim Zehra must have seriously thought that a genuine issue of freedom of Press and expression was being raised and thus signed on. Pakistan Bar Council and HRCP also joined in.
Many were shocked when the name of Najam Sethi also appeared on the petition and even objected to it. Some enthusiastic ladies did not even read the full text and hopped on the bandwagon.
A noted lawyer Salman Akram Raja was hired and the trigger was pressed. The Chief Justice of IHC, a known friend of almost all these petitioners from his pre-court days, took it up instantly and then the buckets of cold water started pouring from the roof as questions were asked in the court and there were no convincing answers.
According to a media report: “the petition contends that the order of the electronic media watchdog is “unconstitutional and illegal prohibitions have been imposed on the electronic media of Pakistan with respect to the dissemination of information. This prohibition is a constitutional wrong in its own right and amounts [to] nullifying the rights made available under Article 19A of the constitution”.
According to the petition, it is the right of the petitioners and of the print and electronic media in general to express, publish, disseminate, relay and broadcast the views and words of any person, including a convict, proclaimed offender or an absconder, the report said. And more specifically the petition asked: “Is a convict, proclaimed offender or absconder deprived of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution including the right to express.”
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These points, obviously and immediately gave the petition the undeniable colour of a pro-Nawaz Sharif campaign as in our current political scenario, he is the only one who has recently been banned, although General Musharraf and Altaf Hussain also come in that category.
With names of Najam Sethi, Asma Shirazi, Mansoor Ali Khan, Gharida Faruqi, Mehmal Sarfraz and Salim Safi also on the petition, PTI activists and government media persons immediately opened heavy fire and the social media became a battleground.
When the Chief Justice asked pointed questions as to who would benefit from the petition, the lawyer could not, or did not, name anyone but it was obvious that he did not want to name Nawaz Sharif as it would make the petition a total pro-PML-N initiative.
The judge knew better. He could not grant a blanket order just because the petitioners were his previous friends or genuine media gurus or big names linked to a convicted leader.
Seniors like Mr I. A. Rehman. Zubeida Mustufa, Ghazi Salahuddin, M. Ziauddin, Zahid Hussain and Nasim Zehra, signed on thinking that the issue was a genuine freedom of Press matter. Some juniors signed without even reading the text, as seniors and HRCP and Bar Council were already onboard.
But when the case proceeded in court, things started to unravel. Many petitioners were not present. Some were even abroad. Others had no idea what were the legal repercussions.
It all appeared that the matter had been brought to the court to help Nawaz Sharif and when the Chief Justice wanted a specific yes or no, no one came forward.
Obviously the observations of the judge went against the petitioners and the counsel asked for a long date to prepare and assess the damage caused by the rush to score a legal or political point.
Nawaz Sharif did not get any relief but the petitioners were damaged and quickly people started to back off. A petitioner said some young ladies got scared of the social media onslaught and withdrew their names on Twitter. Nasim Zehra, Zahid Hussain, Asma Shirazi and Bar Council VP Abid Saqi distanced themselves. The seniors were left in the lurch and having known and worked with respected persons like Zubeida Mustufa, Ghazi Salahuddin, M Ziauddin, I have no doubt they were not in the loop that the petition would turn out to be an ill-considered pro-Nawaz ploy.
Now the mess has been handed over to Attorney, Mr Raja. If he can turn the petition into a non-partisan and apolitical fight for Press freedom, seniors will fight on, as they have always done.
But the damage has been done to the names that knowingly or otherwise, became a prey and did not think of their credibility and professional integrity.
Angry PTI trolls shouted insults and absurdities, as expected, but these media zealots have not done any service to the cause of a free Press by pressing on for the rights of a convicted person, an absconder, though they may have been trapped or misled.
Think before you ink, may be the best advice to these Young Turks.