Defamation laws

Published: January 15, 2020

Can there be any doubt that defamation laws in Pakistan are as useless as ashes, and as harmless as a dead scorpion? Strong they may be on paper, but the laws on libel, slander and tort are practically as weak as a newborn.

A sheer lack of implementation has left these laws void of a deterrent effect. Allegations are, therefore, made with scant forethought; foul language is freely used against opponents; news reports are fabricated and published without adequate checks; and social media gossips against celebrities are churned for fun.

One wonders whether there is a single conviction in a defamation case in our judicial history: a single instance where a defamation suit has resulted in payment of damages to a complainant or, for that matter, a penalty for levelling fake allegations.

One, therefore, cannot disagree with federal minister Fawad Chaudhry when he says that “defamation laws should be reformed and implemented in letter and spirit”. The call from the science and technology minister — who has been embroiled in a physical assault against two renowned anchorpersons in separate incidents — came at a recent panel discussion in Lahore. Last April too, the minister had come up with the same suggestion.

Through a letter, the minister had drawn the attention of the then Chief Justice of Pakistan towards “a lack of implementation of laws related to defamation in the country” and requested him to raise the matter at the National Judicial Policy Making Committee. Chaudhry, a lawyer by profession, had also suggested ‘dedicated judges’ to deal with the “matter of great public importance”.

There is a serious need to take our cue from the West where defamation laws ensure protection to the rights and reputation of the people, and defamation cases are genuinely treated as a matter of great public importance. While the appointment of special judges is indeed a good suggestion, there should also be some time limit, not exceeding a few months, for the settlement of such cases.

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