Leveson Report on UK media
Justice Leveson’s recent report on media is the outcome of a public enquiry which lasted for eight months. Evidence was taken of 300 witnesses, including politicians, media figures and victims of press harassment. One of the findings in the report is that the media put sensationalism above public interest and that there was recklessness in prioritising sensational stories. A damning conclusion is that by its reckless behaviour, the media had wreaked havoc on the lives of innocent people for many decades. Justice Leveson observes in the report that “politicians of all parties had developed too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest and this had undermined public confidence”. The Report underscores that “the press has to be accountable to the public in whose interests it claims to be acting and must show respect for the rights of others. The answers to the question who guards the guardians, should not be no-one”. The report suggests the need is for a new regulatory body, which can provide quick and adequate redress to victims of media excesses and which should be truly independent of the newspaper industry and the government and should not include any serving editor or politician.
There have been divergent reactions to the report. The Labour Party favours legislation. On the other hand, Prime Minister David Cameron cautioned against any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and free press. One wonders about the stand of the Press Council and its Chairman Justice Markandey Katju and the stand of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority headed by Justice JS Verma.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan
Misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan is notorious. These laws are invoked not to prevent blasphemy but to settle personal scores and property related disputes. It is incredible that a former Pakistan Cabinet minister who had called for reforms in blasphemy laws was assassinated and his assassin was lauded and garlanded. Generally, persons accused of blasphemy on trumped up charges are convicted by courts to avoid the wrath of religious fanatics. In this context it is heartening that a Pakistani court recently directed the police to withdraw the blasphemy case against Rimsha Masih, a 13-year-old teenager and quashed the FIR filed against her on the allegation that she was found burning pages of a sacred text in Arabic from the Quaran. After