Malik Muhammad Ashraf
It is a universally accepted principle of jurisprudence and, undoubtedly, a law that litigants or media should avoid commenting on an issue that is pending for adjudication before a court in such a way that could prejudice the trial by exerting pressure on judges, jurors and witnesses. Such a behaviour is tantamount to contempt of the court. Lord Alfred Denning in the case of AG vs. Times newspaper said: â€œThe press has a right to report civil and criminal proceedings in a proper and factual way and to comment fairly after a case has finished. The press may not, however, while the matter is sub judice, publish comments that could prejudice the fair trial of the matter. We must not allow trial by newspaper or trial by television or trial by any medium other than the courts of law.â€ Our media probably does not believe in maintaining the sanctity of law and the principles of jurisprudence. It believes in unbridled freedom for itself that is nowhere available to media around the globe. Even in countries where there is a self-regulatory mechanism in place for regulating media, due care is taken in regard to matters that are before a court. All globally recognised professional and ethical codes for media duly recognise and emphasise this principle. Court proceedings are reported without any comment and passing of judgment on what transpires inside the courtroom during the course of a trial. Strangely, our courts are also not taking notice of this phenomenon that has almost become well-entrenched in Pakistani media, particularly TV channels. Even politicians do not seem conscious of the legality of their actions while commenting on sub judice matters. We have been witnessing this indiscretion by media as well as politicians ever since the restoration of the deposed judiciary. The recent example is the Panama leaks case being heard in the Supreme Court (SC). Almost all TV channels were present on the premises of the SC to provide a platform to politicians to express their views on the court proceedings with no holds barred. Then we witnessed media courts invariably set up by anchors in the evening where judgments were passed, and in certain cases partisan views expressed about the litigant parties. The SC must take notice of the â€˜dramaâ€™, which constitutes contempt of court, and order politicians as well as media to refrain from making comments on the case except for reporting the proceedings of the court without giving any slant or passing any judgment on them. Politicians and media on their own also need to make sure that they do not cross the Rubicon. It is in the interest of the public as well as in their own interest that they act with caution in regard to issues before a court. Now that the case is before the SC, all parties and media must wait for the verdict of the court to offer their comments, and make their assessments in regard to impact of the court decision on the future political landscape of the country. The Panama leaks issue is before the SC because the government and the opposition failed to agree on the ToR for the proposed judicial commission to probe the alleged corruption by the owners of offshore companies. Unfortunately, the focus of the opposition parties, particularly the PTI, has been only on the accountability of the prime minister and his family members, and not all those whose names have been revealed in the leaks, notwithstanding the fact that the name of the prime minister did not figure in the Panama and later the Bahamas leaks. Many believed that the opposition was for a witch-hunt rather than for a genuine and honest attempt to set the process of across-the-board accountability rolling. Though the prime minister and his family members will be the top priority of the court, all those named in the leaks will also be held accountable, as indicated by the SC.
The prime minister has already indicated that he would accept the court verdict without any reservations. Hopefully, the other parties, particularly the PTI contrary to its track record, would also respect whatever judgment is given by the SC on the petitions.
Corruption, undoubtedly, is one of the most pressing problems of our country that have percolated to all tiers of society. But, unfortunately, both politicians and military dictators have invariably used it as a â€˜red herringâ€™ to victimise their political opponents or deposing the elected regimes, respectively. They did not bother to reform the system of governance, which is the real root cause of corruption due to inbuilt avenues that promote a culture of graft and entitlement. Politicians are guilty of politics of self-aggrandisement at the cost of national interest. They have failed to learn their lessons and, unfortunately, their focus even now remains on destabilising the elected government rather than playing the role of a dynamic opposition wedded to the cause of promoting national interests and strengthening democracy by respecting the mandate of the people. The PTI particularly has been engaged in disruptive politics for the last two and a half years instead of playing a positive role in putting in place effective anti-corruption measures through parliament, and bringing systemic changes to plug the avenues of corruption. It indicates that curbing corruption has never been its priority. The focus instead has been on the removal of Nawaz Sharif by all means.
Unless necessary reforms are brought about in the system of governance and the way we elect our public representatives, removal of any individual will not lead to any meaningful results and elimination of corruption that is promoted by the system itself. The PML-N government has repeatedly shown its willingness to work collectively to address inadequacies of the system without matching or positive response from the other side. The fact is that during the last three years the corruption index in the country has gone into a nose-dive as corroborated by three consecutive annual reports of the Transparency International as a consequence of the administrative measures taken by the government.
Whether one likes it or not, the fact is that under the prevalent system the PML-N enjoys the mandate of the people to run the affairs of the state for a period of five years. Any attempt to destabilise the government though undemocratic means will constitute an affront and insult to the genius and mandate of the people who are the real arbiters of the performance of an elected government. There is a national consensus on tackling the rampant corruption. What is needed is that politicians instead of wasting their energies on disruptive pursuits must use their collective wisdom for reforming the system and showing respect to the verdict of the highest court â€” the people of Pakistan who are the real masters and saviour of this country.