SC says no journalist can be forced to disclose sources
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has issued the judgement of NICL Inquiry Commission on the question of compelling a journalist to reveal his source of information and has held that no journalist could be compelled to do so.
Justice Ghulam Rabbani, judge of the Supreme Court and head of the NICL Inquiry Commission, issued the judgment on a petition filed by former Senator Rehman Malik in the NICL Inquiry Commission to compel The News journalist Ahmad Noorani to disclose his source of information regarding a story in which he gave four options to former FIA Additional Director General Zafar Qureshi to influence the investigations of the NICL mega scam.
The News story is available on link http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-13-7195-The-four-options-Qureshi-was-given-but-rejected.The commission report, available on SC web site, declared the story of Ahmad Noorani as true and has recommended initiation of action against Rehman Malik.
The text of the judgement on this particular question also present on Supreme Court website is as follows: 13. Next witness, on the point, is Ahmad Noorani, the Investigative Correspondent/Reporter of the daily newspapers ‘The News Internationa!, Islamabad’.
As a journalist, he broke the news and so stated in his affidavit that Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik gave Qureshi contentious four options etc. Mr Chaudhry, ASC, required this witness in his cross-examination to disclose the source of information about the news published by him in daily The News and Daily Jang of July 5, 2011, and insisted that the witness be compelled to answer the question; however, after hearing him, learned Attorney General and the witness as well, I did not allow the question for the reasons to be recorded. Therefore, before referring to his other statements, I record my reasons as follows:
“Mr Ahmed Noorani, Reporter of daily newspaper, ‘The News’ on being asked by learned counsel Ch Muhammad Azhar, ASC, to disclose the source of his information, replied that “I cannot disclose that my source of information was A Rehman Malik, Bani Amin, Siddiq Akbar or Zafar Ahmad Qureshi”, and on the court question, replied that “he has not disclosed so because by their professional ethics, they are not to disclose the exact source.” However, he requested for some time to see the relevant law and the judgements of the superior courts. Accordingly, further proceedings were adjourned for the next date of hearing.
2. To plead his case, Muhammad Azhar Chaudhry, learned counsel, expressed that a journalist giving his testimony, when asked, was bound to answer a question in his cross-examination. He referred to Article 15 read with Article 142 of Qanun-e-Shahdat Order, 1984, and placed reliance on the case of Sultan Lakhani Vs. Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman (PLD 1997 Karachi, 41). Learned Attorney General supported learned counsel by taking a plea that a witness volunteering testimony on oath, was under an obligation to disclose his source of information. He submitted that the Commission while recording evidence was a Court within terms of Article 2(a) of Qanun-e-Shahadat Order, 1984. Besides, learned attorney general relied on articles 4,5,6,7,8 and 9 ibid and averred that the privileges to a witness except those mentioned in these articles are not available to a journalist. The witness Ahmad Noorani controverted both of them and stated that a journalist is bound to protect confidential source of information. He heavily relied upon the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Journalists, Charter of Munich, 1971, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists Constitution, Code of Principles for the Conduct of Journalism in Pakistan, adopted at International Media Summit Organized by the PFUJ and the International Federation of Journalists in Lahore on August 2008, and ‘a Note from Mr Abid Hassan Minto, Sr Advocate, Supreme Court, in which, learned advocate, inter-alia, has endeavoured to buttress the view point of witness while referring to article 19 of the Constitution. The witness expressed that cases were reported not merely on the information of the source but on proper verification as well as was done in the instant case. He attempted to assure that the information secured from confidential sources could not be regarded unreliable and to support his contention stated that on such kind of information, even honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan took suo moto cognizance and resultantly looted money was recovered from the corrupt elements.
3. I have gone through Article 15, which reflects that a witness shall not be excused from answering any question as to any matter relevant to the matter in issue in any suit or in any Civil or Criminal Proceedings upon the grounds that the answer to such question will criminate or may tend directly or indirectly to criminate, such witness or that it will expose, or tend directly or indirectly to expose, such witness to a penalty or forfeiture of any kind. Therefore, a witness is not to be excused from answering any question as such upon the grounds envisaged in Article 15 ibid. It was not the plea of Mr Chaudhry that the witness had claimed to be excused on the grounds stated in Article 15 ibid, therefore, not entitled to protection/privilege. Neither, witness has refused to answer upon such grounds, albeit he sought immunity on the ground of press freedom, understandably, for the simple reason that without such immunity/protection it would be very hard for a pressman to inform the public in the matter of public importance/interest as the sources, in such cases, may not like to cooperate, render assistance and share information letting a journalist bring such matters to the knowledge of public or concerned authorities from taking cognizance thereof.
Speaking about privileges, it may be stated that articles 4,5,6,7,8 and 9 ibid are enabling and not prohibitory ‘provision of law, and become relevant only when such privileges are claimed by the witnesses holding the status as such, hence in my view, I do not feel myself impressed with the submissions of learned attorney general with reference to afore-noted articles.
The case law of High Court of Sindh referred to herein before, with due respect to learned author judge, does not relate to the proposition discussed now and is in different circumstances hence not relevant.
5. I have also gone through Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan which relates to freedom of expression, freedom of press etc the same is reproduced as follows: “19, Every citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restriction 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.”
It is also not the plea of Mr Chaudhry that the information so supplied by witness is against the interest of 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. Thus, having discussed the matter as above, I am not inclined to ‘force the witness to disclose his source of information.”
Mr Chaudhry, ASC, however, cross-examined this witness on many other aspects.