I am just on page 27, and the judgment of Justice Haddon-Cave of the London High Court, in Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman versus ARY NETWORK & Fayyaz Ghafoor (Chief Operating Officer) is 75 pages long.
Let me state at the outset, that as a result of this defamation case, ARY will end up coughing up no less than three million pounds in damages and costs, for seriously defaming and endangering by declaring Mir Shakil a traitor and an agent working hand in glove with foreign intelligence agencies against the interests of Pakistan.
A painstakingly written in parts judgment, after viewing, yes viewing, and having analysed the transcripts and translations of the series of 24 programs of Khara Sach by Mubashir Luqman on ARY News, aired between 25th Oct 2013 – 8th Oct 2014, is a study in reason, impartiality, dedication, hardwork and the abiding by the spirit of reasonable inference. In this case of defamation filed by Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, the general legal principles the presiding judge abides by, citing British Case Law from numerous past case studies is, in essence, is as follows:
‘[T]he court should give the article the natural and ordinary meaning which it would have conveyed to the ordinary reasonable reader reading the article once. Hypothetical reasonable readers should not be treated as either naive or unduly suspicious. They should be treated as being capable of reading between the lines and engaging in some loose thinking, but not as being avid for scandal. The court should avoid an over-elaborate analysis of the article, because an ordinary reader would not analyse the article as a lawyer or accountant would analyse documents or accounts. Judges should have regard to the impression the article has made upon them themselves in considering what impact it would have made on the hypothetical reasonable reader. The court should certainly not take a too literal approach to its task’ and ‘In the specific context of words spoken in a television programme, it is important to pay particular regard to the guidance … (that) the court should give to the material complained of the natural and ordinary meaning which it would have conveyed to the ordinary reasonable viewer watching the programme …. (and that) the hypothetical reasonable reader [or viewer] is not naive but he is not unduly suspicious. He can read between the lines. He can read in an implication more readily than a lawyer, and may indulge in a certain amount of loose thinking. But he must be treated as being a man who is not avid for scandal and someone who does not, and should not, select one bad meaning where other non-defamatory meanings are available..’
Having set the parameters and standards thus, the judge outlines the content, complaint, defence, analysis and judgment program by program! By the 27th page he has written only about 5 programs. And the gems of baseless perfidy and malice proven by Mubashir Lucman and ARY against Mir Shakil, Geo and Jang are stunning, in the judge’s own words. Time and again Justice Haddon-Cave holds that the host of Khara Sach presents allegations as facts to viewers. Time and again he returns the verdict of slander and defamation. Again and again, his own contempt of the line of defence shows through, though his own words of analysis and decision are paragons of objectivity.
In the analysis on the Kharra Sach program telecast on the 4th of November 2013, he writes: ‘This broadcast shows Mr Luqman in particularly defiant mood in the face of potential defamation proceedings issued against him by the Jang and Geo Group in the High Court of Islamabad: “I neither fear anyone nor bow to anyone except Allah” (p.2). It is also probably the clearest example of Mr Luqman’s vocal insistence that he deals only in proven facts: “I just talk about facts. I just report. I have reports. I am just presenting these reports.” (p.1). He appears not to appreciate, however, that repeating a libel without qualification is defamation.’
This is after the honourable judge had analysed and dismissed in no uncertain terms the defence claims of only having commented and offered opinion, of not having purported to state facts. The judge had clearly held that the tone, tenor and content of the statements of the host of Kharra Sach were presented to the audience as ‘fact’ (and hence defamation). Every time, the judge throws out the Defense’s claims that ‘In every case, Mr Luqman and his guests were expressing opinion about the Claimant, not facts’. A case in point being illustrated by his honour’s words thus,’ importantly, therefore, the final impression left in the viewer’s mind as to the outcome or denouement of the broadcast is clear: the allegations regarding the Claimant’s dealings with Indian intelligence officials and the forced publication of the Hindustan Times story against the interests of Pakistan etc. is proved by the evidence and is true and the Claimant should therefore be criminally charged and punished as a traitor. This episode was, in effect, trial by TV’ and ‘the opening passages of the broadcast suggest that Mr Luqman was intent not merely in debating current events, but in conducting a personal “crusade” or “jihad” against those supporting “Desire for Peace”, whose perfidious actions he was exposing and proving. He also states that what he is saying has been “materialised” by Allah and is “true”.
Thus and thus spake Haddon-Cave, as he wrote on the programs at hand. A scathing indictment of (to borrow from my friend) ARY & Lucman. But continue we shall next week, to deliver our own.
The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.