With the Court cracking down on anchorperson Dr. Shahid Masood for his absurd claims, it seemed that unchecked reckless journalism in Pakistan would finally bridle some consequences. However, with the Supreme Court’s judgment yesterday, it doesn’t look to be the case.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday has accepted Shahid Masood’s unconditional apology, and softened his sentence, giving him off-air for three months. This is despite of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which concluded that every single claim made be him in the tragic Zainab rape-murder case was without any sound basis.

Such a soft sentence seems like a mere slap on the wrist, especially after the initial spectacular hue and cry from the Supreme Court. While the legal grounds concerning the hearing of this case were unusual, the taking up of the issue of journalistic ethics, a forgotten concept entirely in Pakistan, was a welcome move, thus this uneventful end reads particularly disappointing.

It is inconceivable that the court’s method of dealing with judicial contempt - protecting its own ‘dignity’ - and wilful misleading of the public is essentially the same. There is striking similarity between the cases of Nehal Hashmi and Dr. Masood; in both cases, the approach was to see how much the defendant grovels and then hand them a soft punishment. The sentence for lying to the public, belligerently so even after being confronted, must be significantly stronger than disrespecting the judiciary - especially since the SC made such a show of taking such journalists to task.

It is true that the media should be free, and that the threat of legal action on every story with slight ethical problems could open up the floodgates for abuse and censorship. It is also true however that there is a stark difference between slight ethical difficulties and dangerously misleading fake news and Shahid Masood’s case was without a doubt the latter. It is unfortunate that our journalism is highly unchecked and unaccountable, where breach of ethics has led to defamation and incitement of violence; just few months before, we saw the media greatly exacerbating the events in Faizabad. There was a rare opportunity that the Court had today to take a step towards countering such unchecked journalism, and it missed it. . At the end of the day the SC has achieved nothing and Shahid Masood will be back on the air soon, while other journalists will continue to make blatantly false and misleading claims without fear of any consequences.