Freedom of expression: woolgathering
Freedom of expression is a dream in the nascent democratic system in Pakistan. The country has a diversity of political perspectives and there are definitions and norms set in the constitution that deal with religious bigotry, blasphemy laws and partisan strife. These form the key components within a framework for advancement of and managing the freedom of expression in the land. But the rules set in the book differ from practice.
The right to freedom of expression is recognised as a basic human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and accredited in global human rights laws in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). There can be found hints to such ideas, as the “flexibility of discourse in parliament”, in England’s Bill of Rights from 1689 regardless of its actual efficacy. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, embraced by the French Revolution in 1789 particularly asserted the opportunity of discourse as a basic right. The declaration, in Article 11, proposes free communication of ideas and presumptions, and this stands out amongst the most valuable of privileges of man. Each citizen may, in like manner, talk, compose and print with opportunity but one should be accountable of the ill uses of this flexibility as may be characterised by the law.
Pakistan got its first constitution, nine years after winning its independence, in 1956. This constitution ensured the right to opportunity of expression under Article eight. The flexibility of press was not mentioned here. This constitution was focused around the Government of India Act of 1935 and was repealed by the military administration of Field Marshal Ayub Khan in 1958. The new constitution, declared in 1962, ensured the right to opportunity of expression under Article six but it excessively neglected accommodating the right to freedom of press. The constitution of 1962 was soon repealed by the military administration of General Yahya Khan and, after his administration fell, the justly chose legislature of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto set about figuring yet another constitution for Pakistan and one was declared in 1973. It was an accord constitution where all stakeholders appeared satisfied. The constitution of 1973 ensured the right to freedom of discourse and articulation under Article 19. It likewise ensured the right to freedom of press.
The constitution ensured that all subjects of Pakistan be allowed to express views and ideas without being obstructed for doing so. This implies that subjects may talk their mind, put their thoughts or feelings in writing, disseminate them, post them over the web, or express what they feel in any conceivable way. This incorporates different works of art and has another noteworthy proclamation. It integrates the right to look for, get and confer data, thoughts or analysis in any format that may be available.
Pakistan has had a checkered history of freedom of press. It enjoyed an exceptionally brief period during which there was freedom of press and that freedom was gone with the demise of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Before long, daily papers began getting banned and their editors were imprisoned. Successive governments kept on reducing freedom of the press. Various laws were instituted to restrict freedom of the press and to intimidate columnists into keeping news stories from society.
The press has had a major role in strengthening the country by investigating and reporting beyond the propaganda of governments, normally done through advertisements showering accolades on the great administration of the country. The Pakistani media has actually created awareness across the population by uncovering scams, law violations and crimes of national and global offenders, businessmen and terrorists. Acting as an interlocutor between the government and the opposition, between the legislature and civil society, the media has offered a voice for the grievances of the ignored and suppressed communities and individuals, bringing their cases into public view.
However, not all is as yet hunky dory for the media, notwithstanding its efforts to bring about transparency and to put the spotlight on governance. In fact, the media has regularly suffered abuse and violence at the hands of certain sections of Pakistani society and institutions of the establishment. The attack on the media has been perpetrated by both the ruling party and its minions as well as those of the opposition.
Take, for instance, the recent case of the ongoing dharnas (sit-ins) in the national capital, subsequent to the long march from Lahore to Islamabad. The nadir of safety and dignity of the media in Pakistan came in the form of a full-scale invasion and assault on the headquarters of the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV). The attackers were armed with sticks and they beat the staff, damaged the studios and its equipment and the cut communication links, causing a disruption in transmission, as indicated by news reports. Despite the fact that the armed forces eventually brought the situation under control, the capability of dissenters to get inside a government building and cause such mayhem is indeed a major cause for concern. A few columnists quoting the opposition have come under attack. Against this backdrop of turmoil, death threats have been sent to veteran columnist and analyst Kamran Shafi, who has been critical of the ongoing sit-in opposition to the government.
It ought to be recorded that nation states cannot keep imposing restrictions on the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is open to abuse by certain elements in society and that may result in negative consequences for the nation. Nothing should be communicated as it were, which may appear as slander against somebody, may act as an affront to the personality of an individual or may provoke somebody to violent demonstrations causing loss of property and life or injury. These are matters of self-restraint and discipline that the press must exhibit and demonstrate to help itself mature and grow in stature and in order so that it may have a role in a free and fair society, where one may speak one’s mind and may have acceptance and trust towards engaging in a true dialogue.
The writer is an award-winning columnist. He tweets @JanjuaHaroon and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org