Pakistan’s lawyer movement not only made the judiciary independent, but the media monstrously independent like never before. The media turned into a giant, ostensibly controlling the minds of judges through stories that triggered judicial review and probe into everything regarding the executive’s apparent inaction or failure to protect fundamental rights. Journalists and editors were frequently approached by private parties whereafter stories were published and placed to catch the famous suo moto eye of the apex court. Then, once the case was taken up, judicial observations and queries assumed the form of damning remarks from the bench about executives and politicians to be redlined on TV screens the same day and headlined in newspapers the next day.

After the restoration of the judiciary, many of the lawyers belonging to political parties, particularly the then ruling PPP had seriously considered the media as part of the problem and not the solution. Some of them even talked about removing TV cameras from the entrance of the apex court. The lawyers community with their own brands of haves and have nots became divided. As the lawyers movement leaders were much in demand for the court of the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the other lawyers felt like jilted lovers. Some of the “Jannisar” lawyers (slogan coined during lawyers movement for lawyers who said they were ready to die for the deposed Chief Justice), politicians, bureaucrats, army establishment, and even media men in many cases were accused of abusing the constitutional bypass of the apex court’s fundamental human rights jurisdiction to settle scores with their respective rivals. Such was the suo moto phobia, that even a senior air force officer had once seriously considered filing a petition against the denial of what he thought was his fundamental right to be elevated as an air chief. He later retired to become an ardent defense analyst. It looked as if the drinks for human rights were on the house as intelligence agencies of all kinds too planted stories in the media and petitioners in the Supreme Court to manipulate due process. Geo TV, which is today seen as both a perpetrator and victim of a transgression was then taunted as a “subordinate department” of the Supreme Court. Both the media and judiciary were accused of joining hands to violate the trichotomy of power and undermine parliament, apart from ridiculing the concept of accountability through the ballot.

In this background, the media, particularly a battery of court reporters, were even suspected of connivance with the court to prejudge the verdict at the ballot in the May 2013 elections. This is how the remarks of the former Chief Justice during his last days were seen by many observers. In a third world resource starved country like Pakistan, an eternally dissatisfied population is naturally attracted to the opposition and anti-government narratives which, if reflected in the judges remarks is considered as a moral if not a legal conviction. While the judges in many cases were blamed for crossing the line through their remarks, the media too received part of the blame and rightly so in many cases.

The court reporters have an important role to play in ensuring peoples right to information. However this right ought to be balanced with the fundamental right to a fair trial. It is in this context and with over 17 years of Supreme Court reporting that senior court reporters owe it to their younger colleagues to formulate a code of conduct that ensures journalistic practices for the rule of law and public interest. The lessons learnt from the lawyers movement and thereafter need to be codified to carry forth the mission professionally. With this background and spirit, a “Shall Not Code” for the court reporters is being proposed with the objectives of promoting dignity of the press, rule of law, democracy and public interest.

The words “Shall Not Code” basically highlights the legal jargon “shall” which in the constitution and law is interpreted by courts as a mandatory action to be taken in all circumstances. By this principle “The Shall Not” would obviously mean something which must not be done under any circumstances. But this will remain a self regulatory mechanism to remind the court reporters about things that they don’t have to do. Not doing anything is even otherwise more convenient for many including journalists and hence the expression, “The Shall Not.” From the dont’s that will be printed in two parts today and tomorrow, we can safely assume that many of these were the order of the day during and after the lawyers movement.

The Shall Not Code:

(1) A court reporter shall not become a petitioner or a witness in any public interest litigation especially when he is on duty to report about the court proceedings objectively. If asked by the court to explain his story he should only state what has been published and avoid becoming a party to the proceedings to favour or oppose any side.

(2) A court reporter shall not interrupt and interfere in court proceedings by volunteering any information to influence the court proceedings. While in the court room, a reporter shall not resort to loud conversation or comments causing disturbance and violating court decorum.

(3) A court reporter shall not become a messenger, mediator or a middleman between and among the litigants, lawyers and judges, and shall never refer or recommend a case to a lawyer or judge respectively. He shall also not recommend the name of any lawyer to a litigant.

The proceeding points of the Shall Not code will appear in tomorrow’s column.

The writer is a senior supreme court reporter and anchor for Waqt News.