Access to Information | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Access to Information

Pakistan Press Foundation

Access to information is a big issue for all journalists in Pakistan. One of my colleagues often jokes that if he has to ask a government official about the official date of Pakistan coming into being, the official will first seek anonymity and later will reveal that it can be August 14, 1947.

In a nutshell, seeking an ordinary and well-established fact from a government official is a daunting task.

In a recent training workshop for journalists reporting on the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa underscored the pivotal role of information in a democratic society, asserting that it is the right of every citizen. Addressing the gathering, he highlighted the significance of Section 19 of the Constitution, which deals with freedom of expression, asserting that Clause A provides citizens the right to access information.

Thankfully, we have credible laws which can help citizens get information.

“Information is a very effective weapon, and access to any kind of information is the right of every citizen,” Chief Justice Isa said, adding that the transformative power of transparency in society is a real power. He said that judicial information reaches the public primarily through the diligent work of journalists and their commitment to keeping the public informed.

Referring to the constitutional framework, Chief Justice Isa elaborated on the responsibilities outlined in Section 19A, which subjects the Supreme Court to the principles of freedom of expression. “We have made ourselves accountable,” he proclaimed, highlighting the judiciary’s commitment to openness and accountability.

Justice Athar Manullah, a distinguished judge of the Supreme Court, joined the discourse, asserting that judges should not fear criticism, as truth eventually reveals itself over time. He cautioned against succumbing to the influence of social media, emphasizing the importance of upholding one’s judicial oath. In an age dominated by technology, Justice Manullah noted that states cannot control the free expression of citizens.

While the Constitution of Pakistan explicitly recognizes the right to obtain information and freedom of expression, the practical implementation of these rights has often fallen short of the ideals set forth in the legal framework. Throughout various periods, including military rule and civil democratic regimes, rulers and powerful entities have sought to suppress the freedom of press and expression through legal and extralegal means.

Article 19 of the Constitution grants citizens the right to express their opinions and access information. However, Article 19 Clause B places limits on this freedom by linking it to the sanctity of the state, including its ideology, Islamic principles, and the autonomy of key institutions such as the judiciary and armed forces.

In the current era, social media has become a powerful tool for expression, but its unregulated use has created challenges. Striking a balance between protecting freedom of expression and preventing its misuse is crucial, and the judiciary can play a pivotal role in achieving this delicate equilibrium.

Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s advocacy for information as a fundamental right resonates with the ongoing struggle for media freedom in Pakistan. As the judiciary continues to uphold the principles enshrined in the Constitution, it reinforces the importance of respecting the law and constitution for the well-being of both citizens and institutions. The call for responsible expression serves as a reminder that unchecked freedom can have far-reaching consequences, making it imperative for all stakeholders to collaborate in preserving the delicate fabric of democracy in Pakistan.

Source:  Minute Mirror By Ali Sajjad

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