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Thursday, February 2, 2023

How journalists are the inheritors of public trust?

Historically, journalism in Pakistan has never been easy. From Zia ul Haq’s infamous vetting of newspapers to Nawaz Sharif tapping the phone calls of editors, journalists have always faced attacks. But it is the inconsistent policies, the growing list of topics deemed “sensitive,” and the misuse of the cybercrime law that make the current environment particularly dangerous.

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While watching a viral short video of a member national assembly (MNA) representing the Pakistan Peoples Party, Shagufta Jumani, regarding the change of a Mosque staff, I was shocked as to how dare she commented that way and it could have easily led to blasphemy prosecution and above all, severe danger to her life. I grew worried how foolish she was to issue such a statement. Anyhow, I decided to listen to the whole speech and I found out it was a normal assembly speech while stating how she feels calmness and serenity when praying with a humble request to change the Moazzam (Prayer Caller) of assembly lodges mosque as his voice was harsh. The viral video was selected and circulated in such a way that it removes the actual context of the situation and provokes the masses.

Secondly, instead of forwarding the social media uproar about Tosha Khana gifts used by ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan, I investigated and found out that gifts given to govt heads by foreign dignitaries are administered by a Circular issued by Cabinet Division, govt of Pakistan and available on net bearing reference Number  8/5/2017-TK dated 18th Dec, 2018 and another dated 13th Oct 2017 that lays down the procedure for depositing the gifts in Tosha Khana (govt official locker) and its subsequent use by purchasing it @ 50% of the declared price.

Read more: Journalist Haroon Rasheed claims US wants to appoint Bilawal as PM

As per that SOP, the price is assessed by two sources, FBR and a private assessor from the market. Previously, the buying price was 15% of value which was increased by Imran Khan govt to 50%. Imran Khan said he utilized the amount on carpeting of the road touching his residence. But it was reported as if it is a crime. Somebody filed an application in the court and even the remarks of the honorable judge were reported as he was very furious and ordered a detail of such gifts for last few years creating a negative uproar among masses against stated rules/procedures. I wonder, if the journalists, as well as the respectable judge, had read the circular regarding the disposal of such gifts, the negative impact it caused could have never happened.

Truth is Democracy

To quote a saying “Protection of journalism lies in the peoples’ right to know the truth”, Truth is actually the spirit of democracy. The Insurrection of 6th January at the White House incited by Trump supporters was actually an assault on truth upon sighting of losing the election and, on the contrary, the resistance put up by Imran Khan during a recent uproar on the no-confidence movement, was a try to save the spirit of democracy erected on truth amid lies, crookedness and selected actions and interference by many outside as well as inside players of the state.

Strangely, efficient and fair courts make the dictatorships look good as in the Middle East while inefficient and unfair courts cause the democracies look evil as in the Sub-continent. In India there are approximately 37 million court cases pending while in Pakistan we have 21 lacs pending court cases, hence a constant follow up by media on court cases like follow up on politics, may turn the fate of this country.

Read more: US spies plotting to kill Russian journalists: Putin

Defamation Fines

In both above cases, people have been made to believe that wrong has been committed hence public trust was broken that clearly goes against the saying “Journalists are the inheritor of public trust”, the trust that can only be established when connected to another saying “Journalists are the questioners”. In most part of the world, journalists are answerable in the form of defamation fines or other appropriate accountability procedures otherwise the vices they report will turn into mafias and that is what we are witnessing in developing countries.

In Pakistan, to arrest the fake news, govt introduced a new bill PECA (Pakistan Electronic Crime Act). The Act criminalizes free speech and delegates massive sweeping powers to the Pakistani law enforcement authorities. In pure constitutional terms, PECA violates the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 with certain restrictions that was declared null and void by court and rightly so as there is a defamation law already existing. The problem is, that we hardly hear any defamation penalties imposed under those defamation laws by honourable courts enabling fake news spread fearlessly.

Promotion of Excellence in Journalism

Watching the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner last week, attended by the President of USA and a befitting awards distribution for different categories including Overall Excellence, Deadline Pressures, Visual Journalism, Govt Accountability and Courage is a reflection, by its scale and protocol, of its importance as accorded to other pillars of State like The Judiciary, The Executive, The Parliament, Security Establishment etc.

Read more: Journalist blocks PTI leaders press conference

I suggest generous scholarships to Journalism students and other appreciations will attract the capable youths to adopt this profession under strict merit through competition in all fields of Journalism either print media houses or social media journalism through a common body of professionals so that meritorious and truthful democracy flourishes.


Mushtaq Jumma is an Ex-Airliner and Business Consultant. He can be reached at mushtaqjumma@hotmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.