Monday, June 29, 2015

Covering the Supreme Court of Pakistan: "zero defects" journalism

In a disturbing footnote to the media coverage of the Supreme Court of Pakistan's pending cases on the validity of the 18th and 21st Amendments to the Constitution, consider this:
The Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights on Wednesday took serious notice of a news report published in various sections of the press referring to the Supreme Court stating “Trials by military courts in democracy is dictatorship” terming it totally baseless and contrary to the proceedings of the apex court.

In a statement issued by the ministry, it said, “Stern legal action will be taken against those who issued and published baseless and fabricated statements about the Supreme Court of Pakistan and its justices”.

Furthermore, the ministry clarified, “No such observation was made by the Supreme Court which equated the military courts’ trials to a dictatorship.”The news was published by sections of the press about the proceedings of the Supreme Court regarding hearing of petitions by a 17-member bench challenging passage of 21st Constitutional Amendment.

It is pertinent to mention here that a 17-member full bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk also took notice of the news and issued notices to the relevant sections of the press. The bench also directed the Attorney General for Pakistan to assist the court on this issue on Thursday.

Our correspondent adds: The report with the above mentioned SC remarks was issued by the Online news agency and carried by several newspapers. Online news agency’s reports, particularly on Supreme Court, were also contradicted in the past. The Editorial Committee of the Jang Group has taken notice of this fact and decided to use Online news agency’s reports after tight scrutiny in future. The News regrets publication of Online news agency’s report and apologises for this.
This blog has observed from time to time how hazardous it is to predict outcomes on the basis of comments and colloquys during appellate arguments. Equally, a comment or question from the bench is not a holding of the court. Still, this current kerfuffle seems like serious overkill, and calculated to chill robust coverage of the court's public proceedings. Bad journalism should mean readers turn to other news outlets, not haling careless journalists or their management into court. Editor's gratuitous advice: let it go.

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