Journalists and sources
The tussle between the government and the media is played out in a variety of venues, one of them currently being the Inquiry Commission into political interventions in the NICL scam. It will be recalled that the commission was set up by the Supreme Court after there were repeated attempts by the government to frustrate and derail the inquiry into the NICL affair.
The lead inquiry officer and other investigators were removed from their posts and ‘anti-judiciary’ advertisements were aired amongst other things. The media, print and electronic, followed the case avidly and there was much robust and critical comment on the conduct of the NICL and its various officers. An innocent observer on the outside might conclude that the government had something to hide and was doing all it could to keep from the public eye and ear things regarding the NICL which were embarrassing for the government and exposed criminal acts on the part of government agencies and officials.
The commission is now presented with the view from the government counsel that journalists are bound to disclose the sources of their information in the witness box if they are summoned as witnesses by the court. Understandably, the journalist community sees this as an attack on their professional ethics and an attempt at arm-twisting by the government.
The protection of the confidentiality of sources is a fundamental of journalism. It is understood and — mostly — respected around the world. Press freedom and the protection of journalistic sources are written into the UN Convention of Human Rights; and at a convention which the government of Pakistan attended in 2008, a clause in the resolutions passed reads “A journalist should protect confidential sources of information.”
The journalists who have thus far given evidence to the inquiry have stood by their stories but not revealed their sources. A member of the inquiry commission has directed one of the journalists to give legal arguments in defence of his plea that he is bound not to disclose his sources — and there the matter rests for now and has been referred to the Supreme Court for a ruling.
This may become a defining moment in terms of the relationship between the Fourth Estate and the State of Pakistan. Journalists in Pakistan already have one of the highest annual casualty rates in the world. They are often intimidated and threatened, and sanguine statements as to the freedom of the press by senior government figures are the sugar on a bitter pill the media has to swallow daily. The loss of the right to protect sources in the NICL case would set a dangerous legal precedent, and the government, if successful in its endeavours, will have set back the cause of press freedom in Pakistan by decades.
Source: The News