It is a universally accepted principle of jurisprudence and undoubtedly a law that the litigants or the media should avoid commenting on the issue which is pending for adjudication before a court, in such a way that could prejudice the trial by exerting pressure on the judges, the jurors and witnesses. Such behavior is tantamount to contempt of court. Lord Denning in a case AG versus Times Newspaper said “The 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 which 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”.
Our media probably does not believe in maintaining the sanctity of law and the principles of jurisprudence. It believes in unbridled freedom for itself which is nowhere available to the media around the globe. Even in the countries where there is self-regulatory mechanism in place for regulating media, due care is taken in regards to matters before the 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 court room during the course of trial.
Strangely, our courts are also not taking notice of this phenomenon which is well entrenched in the Pakistani media, particularly the electronic channels. Even the politicians do not seem conscious of the legality of their action while commenting on sub judice matters. We have been witnessing this indiscretion by the media as well as the politicians ever since the restoration of the deposed judiciary. The recent example is the Panama Leaks case being heard in the Supreme Court. Almost all the TV channels are present on the premises of the SC to provide a platform to the politicians to express their views on the court proceedings with no holds barred. In the evening media courts are invariably set up by anchors where judgments are passed and in certain cases partisan views expressed about the litigant parties.
The Supreme Court must take notice of this drama which constitutes contempt of court and order the 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. The 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 regards to issues before the 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 regards to impact of the court decision on the future political landscape of the country.
The Panama Leaks issue is before the Supreme Court because the government and the opposition failed to agree on the TORs for the proposed Judicial Commission to probe the alleged corruption by the owners of the off-shore companies. Unfortunately the focus of the opposition parties, particularly 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 Bahama Leaks. Many believe 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 priority of the court but 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 PTI contrary to its track record would also respect whatever judgment is given by SC on the petitions.
Corruption undoubtedly is the number one problem of our country which has percolated to all tiers of the society. But unfortunately both the politicians and the military dictators have invariably used it as a ‘red herring’ to victimise their political opponent 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. PTI particularly has been engaged in disruptive politics for the last two and half years instead of playing a role in putting in place effective anti-corruption measures through the 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 PM-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 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 PML-N enjoys the mandate of the people to run the state affairs for a period of five years. Any attempt to destabilise it though un-democratic 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 the 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 i.e the people of Pakistan who are the real masters and savior of this land of the pure.
All parties and media must wait for the verdict of the court to offer their comments and make their assessments in regards to impact of the court decision on the future political landscape of the country.