Freedom Of Expression Or Freedom To Express Hatred
Growing up in Pakistan leaves many questions in a person’s mind unanswered. As a student of the law I personally felt on many occasions how easy it was to describe and bash someone’s personality and get away with it very easily. In the legal system of developed nations, any person with some authority or social standing thinks twice before passing a remark on another, but why it is so easy to do in our country? There is no answer and frankly no one cares. One of the main points of consideration here is that the person, against whom such remarks are made, suffers damage to his or her reputation and standing in the society.
With the growth of media channels and social media platforms in the past 10 to 13 years, it has been assumed that this would give the citizens of Pakistan a more enlightened approach towards any issue, be it social or political. To a certain extent it has been achieved as people are more aware and mature in their thinking and in differentiating between what’s right or wrong. But where we stand with the defamation laws is the main point to consider here.
Defamation laws do exist in Pakistan but they lack effective implementation. The need of the hour is that such laws be highlighted on prominent platforms to be taken more seriously. Taking this point into consideration the media’s code of conduct is pertinent to mention here. A segment of the society calls it the “freedom of expression” but on most occasions this is taken way beyond its limits. The trend of social media is important to highlight here as many would agree that most people create and share various types of content here without even reading it in its true context or verifying it. Passing judgment or talking about someone’s private life on a platform that has around 1.7 billion users is what we are becoming really good at. There will come a time when this trend would become difficult to curtail and control. What everyone fails to understand is that the freedom of expression is a qualified right and not absolute.
The most important aspect to discuss here is that of libel. Libel is defamation in permanent form and commonly tends to be in the form of written, broadcast or online publication. In Pakistan, the Defamation Ordinance 2002 seems to have lost its weightage as at almost every instance the aggrieved party looks up to the international courts for an effective remedy. Some authors have regarded the United Kingdom as the “libel tourism” capital of the world. This is because libel tourism is practised by people or entities who are not the citizens of the UK. The main reason for this practice is that the British Commonwealth favours the plaintiffs and the amount of damages is really high as compared to other jurisdictions. The major concerns relate to publication and the current law in Pakistan is definitely not certain on this point. Comparatively, under the UK law a fresh publication is considered to have taken place every time someone reads the defamatory text/material.
Recently we saw news flashes and tweets regarding the remarks passed by two famous cricketers of Pakistan against each other. As a result, supporters of both passed verdicts over social media platforms, leaving a very unscrupulous impression onto the world. At almost every instance it is seen that the person making a defamatory statement seeks an apology from the court but that apology is not highlighted on media platforms in comparison to the defamatory remarks leading to that apology. To add insult to injury, the followers blindly disregard the repute of the aggrieved party and continue to broadcast such statements/remarks.
Ethical training is the most important aspect of any profession in the world but most of the professions in our surroundings lack such training. In today’s day and age people very easily believe anything and everything said by the person they follow or have a liking for, without looking into its authenticity. This is something that we normally don’t care about and the real issue arises when anything said or done by someone is shared with millions on social media platforms without quoting its true context. I have met many people in my career who have developed a liking or hatred towards someone and when asked about the reason for such thinking, the only answer I get is that they read or heard about that person somewhere on a social media platform or through some relative who lives far away or got the information through a chain of people. I think one can easily judge the authenticity of that!
The time is ripe to take measures in order to craft awareness in our society. The society as a whole should also try and eradicate this attitude by taking positive steps individually. Calling names and assassinating someone’s character is very easy but we must always think from the prospective of the person suffering from it.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.