PROPAGATION OF FALSE AND DEFAMATORY NEWS ON THE PRETEXT OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Freedom of speech means that people can express their opinions even an unpalatable one, without the fear of government censorship. Freedom of press as part of freedom of speech means to express or communicate information to the public through different mediums, like print media and electronic media. Freedom is guaranteed in the Constitution but with certain limitations. Right of reputation is also protected under our Constitution. Article 19 provides freedom of speech but with certain reasonable restrictions and Article 4 (2) and 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 safeguards reputation and dignity of a man. Furthermore, defamation i.e. harming the reputation of a person is an offence under the Defamation Ordinance, 2002 and according to S. 9; defendant is liable to pay damages.
False news is not new, fabrications and untruths have always been around. That is why State imposes restrictions on the media in order to protect other human rights, such as a person’s right of reputation. The circulation of False News is not limited to the social media but transcends to traditional media as well including Print and Broadcast media. The concepts of defamation and false news are connected with each other. Because when a news regarding a person is telecasted or published and if it is false and defamatory, it damages the reputation of that person and it falls under the category of defamation.
Pakistan’s judiciary clarifies the constitutional provisions by stating that before reporting news, journalists should conduct due diligence so that rumors and insinuations are filtered out. Press is not free to publish anything which causes damage to any person’s reputation and honor. In a democratic society, restrictions and duties must co-exist in order to maintain peace and stability in the society.(Pakistan Broadcasters Association V. Pemra, 2016) The media cannot be allowed to damage the dignity of respectable citizens and making publications of baseless rumors and fictitious stories which seriously injure the reputation of others. Anything which is published against a person and ridicules him/her is certainly nothing but defamation. (ADEEB JAVEDANI, PRINTER AND PUBLISHER, MOON DIGEST, LAHORE Versus YAHYA BAKHTIAR, 1995).In the last sermon of Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H) he condemned and prohibited any encroachment on any person’s honor and respect. (Khalid Aziz V. Pakistan Television, 2017) Under the provisions of Constitution, 1973 reputation of a person has received the highest protection in Article 14. Thus, it’s not only the state’s but all citizens’ obligation to respect and show regard to dignity of every person. Media should not violate standards of true professional ethics, as it will diminish its own credibility in the eyes of readers and viewers.( HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF PAKISTAN V. LIBERTY PAPERS LTD: and others, 2015).
Defamation means a wrongful act or publication or circulation of a false statement or representation which harms the reputation of a person or ridicules him (Defamation Ordinance, 2002) which means that whenever false news is published or broadcasted by media which harms the reputation of a person, it falls under defamation. But we often see that media misuse its freedom by publishing and broadcasting false and defamatory news, articles etc. Media channels fighting for ratings misuse their right of freedom of speech. Journalists should ensure that whatever news, articles they are publishing or broadcasting does not defame someone. Words and sentences provoke emotions in listeners and readers because language is never neutral therefore the right of freedom of speech should not be used irresponsibly, especially by media as it holds an important role in society as propagators of news (Hussain) Dr. Shahid Masood, a renowned T.V anchor, while hosting his show alleged that Zainab murder case suspect is a member of a gang of pornography which also includes a minister of Punjab. When the Court took action and asked the anchor to present evidence, he did not furnish any evidence. The court accused him of spreading false news and the anchor apologized to the Court. (Zainab Murder Case: JIT declares Shahid Masood’s claims false, 2018)
The right of freedom of speech is universally recognized as a limited right. Each of the United Nations-based treaties which outline the right of freedom of speech/expression in the context of their subject matters also outlines restrictions on freedom of speech/expression. Article 19(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that, “the exercise of the rights carries with its special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary for the respect of the rights or reputation of others.”
In the case of defamation, journalists have no special privileges; however, fair comment on the matter of public interest is allowed but it should not be used as cloak for ventilating some personal dispute against any one. News should not be allowed to be published in the newspaper without verification. Because when media houses fail to verify, the facts become elusive which makes it easier for the false news to spread. Whatever claims made in an article by journalists should be backed up by experts in the relevant field so that false part of the news is filtered out. Conveying information that is untrue is a violation of freedom of speech. As held by Lord Bingham that there is no duty to publish and the public has no interest to read material which the publisher has not taken reasonable steps to verify.
Just as media possesses the freedom of speech, every person also possesses a right to his reputation. A person’s reputation is needed to be preserved inviolable as an inherent right. Independent and fact based journalism serves to protect against false and defamatory news. Although our Defamation laws which protects the reputation, seems really strong but practically they are very weak. Therefore allegations are made, foul language is used freely, and news are fabricated and published/broadcast without any check. There is a serious need to take hint from the West where defamation laws ensure protection to reputation of the people and where defamation cases are treated as a matter of great public importance.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Law Recorder Pakistan.
By: Atika Khalid
Author Atika Khalid is a final year law student at University of Karachi. She has participated in various MUNs and Moot Court competitions. Recently she got 3rd position in JKPLF article writing competition.