Freedom With Responsibility

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Malik M. Ashraf

Politicians, political parties and media owe it to society to promote national cohesion and focus on the well-being of the people by performing their role according to the constitution of the country. But regrettably, the present political scenario and media landscape is not as enviable as one would like it to be. Politicians as well as media are flouting the constitution with impunity in the name of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
The situation is quite dismal in the media more so in the social media which is being used by the vested interests as well as by PTI to troll and denigrate state institutions and throw incessant flak at the military leadership.
The PTI has a track record of flouting the constitution and orchestrating political crises in the country. To thwart a constitutional move of a no-confidence motion against Imran Khan the deputy speaker quashed the motion citing it against Article 5 of the constitution and immediately after it Imran Khan advised the President to dissolve the assembly which he did as desired. The Supreme Court in its unanimous verdict declared the whole exercise a breach of the Constitution. To precipitate a political crisis in the country, the party en-mass resigned from the national assembly and Imran Khan unconstitutionally dissolved the KPK and Punjab assemblies.
The party also has the dubious distinction of introducing politics of violence and impudence that led to the tragic incidents of 9th May when military installations and monuments of the martyrs were attacked throughout the country in the backdrop of the arrest of Imran Khan. It was a rebellion against the state planned and masterminded by Imran Khan as has been corroborated by several stalwarts of the party who said adieu to the party after those incidents.
Amazingly the party still dares to claim that the 9th May incidents were planned and executed by the agencies to trap the party., even though the whole nation saw live on the TV screens workers and leaders of PTI ransacking the Corp Commander House and nephew of Imran Khan Hassan Khan Niazi hoisting uniform of the commander on a stick to claim victory.
In the wake of the 2024 general elections, the party like the 2018 general elections has again come up with allegations of rigging holding the establishment responsible for it. Its social media is continuously engaged in targeting Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir. The party has also announced to launch of a movement against rigging and its members within the assembly invariably create rumpus in the assemblies.
Amidst the prevailing turmoil and suggestions emanating from different sources for dialogue among all the stakeholders Secretary Information of PTI Raoof Hasan stated a few days ago that the party wanted negotiations with the establishment not to seek NRO but to remind it of its constitutional role.
In the backdrop of the unfolding events and the statement by the information secretary of PTI, the COAS General Asim Munir gave a befitting response to chatter. While speaking at the passing out parade of the Air Force on Thursday he said” The military is well aware of its constitutional limits and also expects others to uphold the constitution. Article 19 of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan clearly defines the limits of freedom of speech and expression of opinion” Earlier speaking at the Green Pakistan Initiative he said that negative propaganda and social media trolls could not distract the nation from advancing towards the development and prosperity. It is hard to take an exception to what the COAS has said.
Perhaps it would be pertinent for the benefit of the readers to quote the full text of Article 19 to make them abreast of what limits it prescribes for freedom of expression. It reads “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or about contempt of court, or incitement to an offence.”
The article stipulates that while enjoying the right to freedom of speech and expression one has to be aware of the limits prescribed by the constitution. A look at what the PTI has been doing and how the media, particularly the social media has been behaving confirms the fact that they have relished flouting the constitution.
The fact is that there is no concept of unbridled freedom of expression anywhere in the world. As regards media it also has to act within the confines of the constitution and codes of ethics evolved by the international media bodies which invariably emphasize the linkage of freedom of expression to the sense of social responsibility.
The constitutional provision for freedom of expression and media aligns with the internationally recognized role of the states to regulate all the entities within its territorial limits in such a way that they contribute to the strengthening of the state, its ideological moorings, national interests and the moral values of the society to promote peace and tranquillity in the country. There is no concept of unbridled media freedom in the world and rightly so.

The writer is a former diplomat and freelance columnist.
The social responsibility theory propounded by Dr Robert Maynard Hutchison which is considered as Magna Carte of press freedom unequivocally declared “Freedom Comes with Responsibility” The report presented by him emphasized the need for media to provide accurate, truthful and comprehensive accounts of events, act as a forum for exchange of comment and criticism, present and clarify goals and values of the society and make sure that it projects a representative picture of the constituent groups of the society. It also reiterated the fact that society and the public had the right to expect high standards of performance from media and as such intervention could be justified to secure the public good. Ethical and professional codes of conduct for the media drawn up by UNESCO, the International Federation of Journalists, Media associations, and Press Councils in the countries where the self-regulatory arrangement is in place and the code of ethics forms the part of Press Council Ordinance in Pakistan invariably espouse the principles of the Social Responsibility Theory propounded by Hutchison Commission.
The media can defend its freedom and play its defined role only when it acts with responsibility. Another very important aspect in this regard is that if the media is regarded as a watchdog against the government the government is also a watchdog against all entities operating within the state including the media to ensure that they act within the ambit of law and constitution. That cannot and should not be grudged.