Freedom Of Press Used By Some As Licence To Disinform And Undermine Democracy, Says CJP Isa While ...

Chief Justice issues 10-page verdict in 90-day elections case, reiterates that dissolution of April 2022 dissolution of the assembly was deemed illegal

Freedom Of Press Used By Some As Licence To Disinform And Undermine Democracy, Says CJP Isa While Appreciating Professionals

A day after causing a stir by warning the media against fomenting uncertainty regarding general elections when the matter has been settled, Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa tempered those comments by appreciating the "professional" among the media.

In a 10-page written verdict issued on Saturday on petitions seeking directions from the Supreme Court on holding general elections within 90 days, Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa observed: "However, this Court appreciates those in the media who perform their duties professionally and truthfully."

Chief Justice Isa was leading a three-member bench comprising Justice Aminud Din Khan and Justice Athar Minallah to decide the petitions. 

During hearings for the case, the court noted it had facilitated the development of consensus between President Arif Alvi and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on the final date for general elections in the country. General elections are now slated to be held on February 8, and this is apparently perceived as a credit to Chief Justice Isa, who succeeded in settling the uncertainty on the matter, unlike his predecessor, Umar Ata Bandial. 

Earlier, during the last hearing of the case, Chief Justice Isa had warned the media against speculating on the date of the general elections. 

"In conclusion, we want to acknowledge the role of the media. Article 19 of the Constitution decrees that: 'there shall be freedom of the press', subject to the stated reasonable restrictions," the chief justice noted. 

"But some have construed this freedom as a license to disinform and build a false narrative and do so to undermine democracy," he observed.

"A decreased confidence in democracy diminishes people's engagement with it and suppresses voter turnout," the chief justice further observed, enunciating the role media plays in democracy. 

Referring to the code of conduct of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Chief Justice Isa observed that the regulator prohibits content which incites or condones dislodgment of democratic setup against the command of the Constitution. 

The written order also narrated the facts regarding a vote of no-confidence against former prime minister Imran Khan last year and described it as a "democratic move". 

He also endorsed the judgement of the bench headed by then-chief justice Umar Ata Bandial, which determined that the actions of President Arif Alvi to dissolve the parliament were illegal. 

"It was pointed out by the Chief Justice and four judges of this court what was manifestly clear, that a prime minister facing a vote of no-confidence could not advise the dissolution of the 
National Assembly. The purported dissolution of the National Assembly was 
declared unconstitutional and held to be of no legal effect."

"On that occasion (April 3, 2022), the President had dissolved the National Assembly by using a power not vesting in him, while in the present case, he did not use a power which he did possess," the verdict observed, suggesting that President Arif Alvi had the power to announce a date for elections.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain