Govt wants journalists to reveal their sources
ISLAMABAD: During the hearing of Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s prayer before the National Insurance Company Limited (NICL) Inquiry Commission, the federal government has stated that journalists are bound to disclose their secret or confidential sources of information in a witness box if they are summoned by a court.
Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq made the statement before the Commission on Monday as he was asked by the commission to give his opinion on the matter of Rehman Malik’s prayer. His repeated insistence on a baseless fact instead of letting the commission examine the real issue, is termed by many senior journalists as a direct attack on the freedom of the press in Pakistan.
The Supreme Court has set up an Inquiry Commission, headed by Justice Ghulam Rabbani to probe the political intervention into the investigations of the NICL scam, repeated removal of the inquiry officer, creation of hurdles in the investigation process and airing of anti-judiciary advertisements. Different news items suggest particular intervention by the Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik into the investigation process, so the commission summoned the FIA’s former Additional Director General Zafar Qureshi and five journalists and required from them affidavits, narrating facts about their news stories and evidence they have in this regard.
On affidavits of Zafar Qureshi and journalists, Rehman Malik and federal secretary interior gave counter affidavits. After this, the lawyer of Rehman Malik prayed before the court that he want to cross examine all the journalists and Zafar Qureshi which was accepted. In response to this, Zafar Qureshi and the journalists also submitted that they will also cross-examine Rehman Malik and secretary interior. All journalists appeared for their cross examination while cross examination of Rehman Malik and secretary interior is yet to be done.
During the cross examination of journalists, Rehman Malik prayed through his lawyer that court should order the journalists to disclose the source of their information. On this, all the journalists responded before the commission that they will prove the authenticity of their news items, but because of their professional ethics they are bound to not to disclose their source of information. The lawyer of Rehman Malik, however, pressed that he couldn’t move forward in the cross-examination until and unless the journalists reveal their source. The judge directed a journalist to give legal arguments in defence of his plea that he was not bound to disclose his source of information before the commission. The journalists insisted that their stories should be examined and their authenticity should be analyzed by the commission but determination of source of information was a non-issue.
However, following the court directions, the journalists cited the Code of Ethics of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Code of Conduct of International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a charter of duties of the ‘Reporters Sans Borders’. Clause-11 of the Code of Conduct given in the constitution of PFUJ reads: “A journalist should fully realize his personal responsibility for everything he sends to his paper or agency. He should keep Union and professional secrets and respect all necessary confidences regarding sources and information and private documents.” The Declaration of Rights of Duties of Journalists, Charter of Munich, 1971, issued by Reporters Sans Borders and adopted by the IFJ is considered as sacred document for the journalists performing their duties across the world. Article-7 of this charter reads: “To observe professional secrecy and not to divulge the source of information obtained in confidence.”
In the international convention, held by the IFJ and PFUJ jointly on August 2, 2008, also attended and endorsed by the Government of Pakistan passed a 26-point resolution. Clause-5 of this resolution reads: “A journalist should protect confidential sources of information.” Besides this the UN Convention on Human Rights was also quoted which guarantee freedom of press and protection of journalistic sources.
However, commission opined that these declarations, conventions and Code of conducts have no legal value. The commission also summoned the attorney general with his opinion on the subject. The journalist quoted Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan guaranteeing freedom of press, freedom of speech and expression, along with some judgements declaring protection of confidential sources of information, as integral part of freedom of press. First judgement quoted was Goodwin Vs the United Kingdom dated 27.03.1996. Opinion of top legal and constitutional expert Abid Hassan Manto was also brought before the commission, which cited the European Court of Human Rights judgment that says: “The protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom.” The commission was also informed that in some cases like that of Judith Miller, a female investigative reporter for New York Times in 2005, the reporter had accepted to go to jail but didn’t disclose her source of information, and the incident is described as a matter or pride in journalists’ community.
However, the commission was told that in later judgments, superior courts held that without protection of journalistic sources, basic right of freedom of press couldn’t be ensured. A September 14, 2010, judgment of the European Court of Human Rights was also quoted in which the court admitted the right of a Dutch journalist to not disclose his source of information. The Guardian wrote on the day of judgement, “In a ruling, strongly reaffirming the ‘vital importance’ of protection of sources plays to ‘press freedom’, the court overturned a ruling that had compelled Dutch journalists to reveal names of participants of in illegal car races.” Similarly in another judgement on July 25, 2008, a federal judge in California, USA, supported a Washington Times reporter Mr Gertz right to protect his confidential sources.
Article 19 of the Constitution reads: “Freedom of speech, etc–Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence.”
Hearing on 5 last dates, the arguments and counter arguments were given on the question maintaining of confidentiality of the source and not a single point pertaining to the real case was ever discussed.
The attorney general for Pakistan started his arguments on Saturday and concluded on Monday. Attorney General instead of giving his legal opinion sided with Rehman Malik and twisted the whole facts. Maulvi Anwarul Haq submitted before the commission that there is no doubt that under Article 19 of the Constitution, journalists have freedom of press and have protection of maintaining confidentiality of their journalistic sources. “However, if a journalist is summoned in the witness box by a court, he is bound to Article 15 of the Qanoon-e-Shihadat Act and is thus bound to disclose the identity of his source,” the attorney general stated before the court, adding, “However, the journalist could opt to withdraw from the proceedings to ensure the protection of his sources.Â”
Justice Ghulam Rabbani, who is retiring on October 19, 2011, adjourned the hearing of the case with date in office and send the whole proceeding record to the chief justice. The matter, along with the question of protection of confidentiality of the journalistic sources, will now be decided by the chief justice.
Experts say that either the chief justice will make the record and submissions of the commission as part of the case and fix it for hearing or will appoint some new judge as inquiry judge on the issue to complete the hearing on political intervention into the NICL scam. They say that the chief justice may also order Justice Ghulam Rabbani to continue the hearing of the commission and submit the report before him.
Senior journalist Hamid Mir also appeared in the court to make his submission before the commission on the question of the protection of sources, but he couldn’t attend the proceedings of the commission.
Source: The News