Monthly Archives: December 2014

Freedom of expression and speech: an absolute right? (Part II)

To read Part I please click on the link:

This is a cross post from Pulse Weekly

By: Yasmeen Aftab Ali ArticleYAA

Obscenity generally may be described as disgusting and in violation of standards acceptable in a given society of decency or morality. Obscenity differs from culture to culture, even in the same culture; it is different from one geographical area to the other. Or, different during different times in the same country, province, area. This is especially true of developing nations like Pakistan, where norms, life styles, dressing, etc are completely different in rural areas as compared to urban areas. One may not be obscene in garb of freedom of expression. In any liberal society we must determine the boundaries to a right. If all limitations from freedom of speech are removed, as clamored for by certain sections of societies, does this mean, we endorse pornography? Does this then endorse, a lifestyle, dressing et al in complete contempt of the value structure on which our society is built? Does this mean obscenity in behavior becomes acceptable? On the other hand; who defines obscenity/vulgarity? It has certainly not been done so in our laws dealing with freedom of expression and speech. What may be obscene to one person may not be obscene to another person coming from a different spectrum of the same society. What then, is the benchmark to determine whether or not a programme is obscene?

A list of 1500 words were sent to the three largest mobile carriers by The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). “The list includes many crude and sexual terms that the government is attempting to root out as part of a 1996 ban on transmitting information through telephone systems that is “indecent or obscene.” (Times News Feed titled “Purity in Pakistan: Government Bans Text Messages with Obscenity” by Nick Carbone published 19th November 2011)  PTA banned pornographic websites in Pakistan in January 2012. According to SITE News Pakistan,“PTA has provided a list to the ISP’s in Pakistan to block the frequently accessed adult sites. It is believed that more web pages will be added to the initial banned list of 1,000 websites and as many as 170,000 websites may be banned in the near future.”(Published on News Pakistan by 23rd January 2012)

In Butler v. State of Michigan court made it a misdemeanor to sell or make available to the general reading public any book containing obscene language “tending to the corruption of the morals of youth” violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”352. U.S 380(1957).Thereby creating a clear benchmark, “tending to the corruption of the morals of youth.”

Fundamental to protect human rights is the underlying principle of awarding dignity and equality to all. Being sensitive to the religious feelings of others. Dr. Agnes Callamard states in his article, “States may, but are not required to introduce legislation on blasphemy. Several established democracies still have blasphemy provisions on the books, although most of these are rarely, if ever, used. In the United Kingdom, for example, there have been only two prosecutions for blasphemy since 1923. Norway saw its last case in 1936 and Denmark in 1938.” (Article published in Equal Voices, magazine for European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), Issue, 18th June 2006)

The universe is full of people with diverse beliefs. Religions are many, followers of each religion believes they follow the “best” one. Irrespective of whether someone is a Muslim, a Christian, an Atheist, so on and so forth, the best course of action to maintain peace and harmony is to be respectful towards the other’s beliefs. As we would want respect to be shown to ours. Why hurt feelings and create a chain reaction that may gather speed and erupt like a volcano? And like a volcano, destroy everything that comes its way.

The list of limitations is by no means exhausted and includes copyrights and patents .Any logo, product name, patent product by a company, may not be used by another in exercise of right of freedom of expression. Copyright laws are governed by legal doctrines for example Anti-Trust Law in US (1995) and Competition Laws in the European Union. Each country has its own set of copyright laws.

Accountability is difficult in societies that generally lack respect for the law. The two intrinsic elements for a person to be guilty of perjury are that he/she must have deliberately lied to mislead and this must have been done under legal oath.

“I still think President Clinton may have some real problems because he testified under oath. There is a real question of perjury and obstruction of justice.”  This came from Don Nickles, an American businessman and politician who was a Republican United States Senator from Oklahoma from 1981 till 2005 on Clinton-Lewinsky case on the testimony by Clinton in court. Bill Clinton was impeached and the House approved Articles that alleged perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under oath and obstructing justice for cover up with an intern in the Oval Office.

How can we, while discussing limitations on freedom of expression, overlook profanity?

The vulgar, irreverent word or action that we hear so commonly in the course of conversation, even by the educated, what to speak of the rickshaw drivers, that one is likely to forget that this too, is a bar on as we exercise freedom of expression. And profanity is not just restricted to one-to-one exchanges but is gaining greater acceptance in form of crude comedy and sitcoms. Do we allow society and media as a powerful instrument of opinion formation, to exercise this right with no limitations and governed only by good sense? If in spite of the limitations, we see so many violations, how can we allow an unrestricted profane choice to the people? It will be akin to giving a loaded gun to a two year old and expect him not to shoot himself in the foot- or shoot off his mouth, in this case!

In the well- known case Cohen v. California, the United States Supreme Court overturned a “disturbing peace conviction” of a man wearing a jacket decorated with profanity.  On 26th April 1968, Paul Robert Cohen was arrested for wearing a jacket with profanity written on it. He was convicted of violating California Penal Codesentencing him to 30 days in jail. The conviction was upheld by California Court of Appeal, and the California Supreme Court denied review of the case.

Invasion of privacy by media, governments, or institutions, are a part of privacy laws of many countries. A good example of privacy is reflected in the Fourth Amendment of the American Constitution, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Contempt of Court relating to media usually takes the form of discussing issues that are sub judiceto the court.The term “sub-judice” is Latin. It simply means “under judicial consideration.” Thereby meaning to state any matter that is under judicial consideration must not be commented and debated upon, unless and until the Court delivers a verdict. This makes sense.If a matter is pending before court, and the same is being discussed in its entire speculative splendor in media, it will be fair to assume that it will create public perceptions. There are vested interests. Media persons, just like any other have their own biases and prejudices. Besides, media persons, not being lawyers may not grasp the elements within a case. The projection of news, may lead to running of a media trial and deliver a media judgment before a judgment from the court. Even if truth is spoken in the media, is it fair to prejudge a case before being presented in Court and before it may be judged by a court of competent jurisdiction? What if facts by the media are not what they are? There can be a genuine misunderstanding of legal points- after all; everyone is not a lawyer, notwithstanding the desire to act as one- is this not seriously compromising an issue by virtue of running a media trial?

Is it not likely for a media trial to endanger and jeopardize the fair trial of a man? Can it not put in danger the life of a key witness? Or his/her family? Can it not sway a judge by a public trial? The newspaper and TV is read and viewed by people from across the board. Or other officials involved in the investigation? Or pronounce a sentence on half-truths where there should be none, on an innocent person?

The question of practical relevance that arises here is: in any case that arises and is incourt, some may have great public interest. Now, this interest is heightened during the pendency of the case. The case may take a year or more to reach the decision by a court. Do the media, then, stay mum till the conclusion of the proceedings?To address the above question, the principle of “clear and present danger” was developed; whether the publication presented an immediate likelihood that justice would be thwarted, -whether there was a “clear and present danger that the publication would obstruct justice.”The famous rule, expressed first in 1919 by Justice Homes in Schenck v United States.Justice Wendell Holmes in the famous case Schenck v. United States(1919) clearly expressed his opinion that a restriction is legitimate only if it poses a real and clear present danger that relates to public interests or threat to safety. When America entered the World War I in 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act. This law clearly enunciated that any individual working to cause disloyalty or disobedience among the soldiers will be deemed as a war crime. Charles Schenck was against the war. He mailed thousands of pamphlets to men who had been drafted into the armed forces. The government accused Schenck of violating the Espionage Act. The contention of the government was that the pamphlets were aimed to weaken the loyalty of the soldiers and create a clear obstruction in the recruitment procedure. Argument put forth by Schenck was that the Espionage Act was in violation of the First Amendment that clearly states, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” The case was eventually decided by the Supreme Court in 1919. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the decision for a Supreme Court that was unanimous in its decision. “When a nation is at war,” he said, “many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.” (Edmonton Journal V Alberta (1969)2 SCR 1326)

In a known case of SaadatKhialy, an article was carried by some newspapers. The article made some comments on some pending cases in the court. The Supreme Court ruled it was contempt of the court. The ruling stated: “If the Article, read reasonably and as a whole, was calculated or had the tendency to prejudice mankind against one or the other of the parties involved in the proceedings, it is enough to amount to an interference with the course of justice, for the question in the case is, not as to whether the publication has, in fact, interfered with it or not, or as to what was the intention of the author  and/or publisher, but whether it has the tendency to produce such prejudicial effect. The principle on which this type of contempt is punished is to keep the stream of justice unsullied so that the parties against whom litigations are pending in courts of law should get a fair trial from the Courts and not be subjected in advance to a trial by newspapers.”(SaadatKhialyVs The State PLD 1962 SC 457)


Freedom of expression and speech places a huge responsibility upon the person practicing it-in this case the media. With vested interests involved, an open cheque can lead to serving vested interests at the cost of national interests. Freedom of publication is a huge responsibility. To whom are we entrusting the responsibility to? In a race to sell more than the competitor, media panders to sensationalism, indulging in speculations that can ultimately harm the national interests. In a powerful article by Yawar Abbas, in Daily Times, says, “During the last decade, Pakistan’s media has contributed positively to the cause of democracy in the country and also played an active role in the restoration of the judges through round the clock coverage of the famous Lawyers’ Movement. Nonetheless, serious doubts and conflicting views regarding the media’s role in the country have also accompanied these wide-scale developments. Some of these views rise from concerns that the media is strictly averse to the idea of even the most modest regulation by the government and that it refuses to abide by a unanimously agreed code of conduct or ethics. The media groups in the country have grown into big mafias; they own print as well as electronic media — a situation that is almost unprecedented anywhere in the world. Critics also maintain that the Pakistani media is creating an environment of despair and hopelessness by presenting a very bleak picture of the country. This constant fearmongering and pessimistic outlook on such a broad scale can have its own psychological ramifications for Pakistani society in the future.” (Daily Times, published 24th March 2011 titled, ’Is Media fanning extremism’?Yawar Abbas)

The good, the cultural, the beautiful has all been relegated to the back burner. All that is projected is the bad, the ugly, and the destructive. Talk shows talking of doomsday scenario seem to have replaced entertainment and any good things related to Pakistan. This has on one hand created despondency in the local population; on the other hand, it has effectively created a consistently negative view of Pakistan for the rest of the world. The culture of Pakistan has been overtaken by the Indian culture in entertainment in the electronic media. The local news is full of news of the Bollywood actresses and actors- taking them over as Pakistani film industry.

This tendency must be curbed.

The world has become a global village. Any incident happening in one part of the world is reported in another part of the world within seconds owing to electronic media, social media and forums like Twitter and Face Book. A very, very responsible approach is needed by the players involved to avoid trampling on this right of others while exercising their own.Freedom of expression is a desired trait for any nation. We must all aspire to achieve this. However, with every freedom comes responsibility. Limitations that are reasonable and in the larger benefit of the society must be respected and followed. Not because they are forced, but because of the understanding that this leads to harmony. Like in any other country in the world, Pakistan too places certain restrictions on freedom of expression for the greater good of the country. This must be understood and respected. The mark of a mature nation is not to belittle and humiliate the Constitution, but to respect and follow it.


About the writer

YasmeenAftab Ali is a Lawyer and also holds a Master’s degree in Mass Communication. She has authored, “A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan,” in 2011. She is a weekly Op-Ed Writer for ‘The Pakistan Today’ daily national newspaper published from Lahore and has been teaching in a private university for 9 years. She is known as the leading Media Laws specialist in Pakistan.





Freedom of expression and speech: an absolute right? (Part 1)

This is a cross post from Pulse Weekly

By: Yasmeen Aftab Ali ArticleYAA


Media today has become a powerful tool all over the world and in Pakistan expressing views and conveying news. In Pakistan, media has gone from one strength to another since 2002. More specifically, from the year government allowed private TV channels to make a debut.  Owing to a low literacy rate, television is viewed and enjoyed by people across the board. Although a different set of laws govern the print medium of communication and also in some cases overlap laws governing electronic media like Article 19 and 19A Constitution of Pakistan, (Freedom of Speech/Access to Information) Article 204 (Contempt of Court) and Defamation others governing the latter also include the PEMRA Ordinance 2002, PEMRA Ordinance (Amendments) 2007, Code of Conduct for Media Broadcasters/Cable TV Operators aiming to regulate the working of electronic media. Violations nonetheless occur. Not once, not twice, but repeatedly!  This is with reference to electronic medium of communication in particular.  We need to see the bigger picture; we need to understand the concept of freedom of expression and speech. We need to understand that nowhere in the world is it absolute. We need to understand the need to respect the law.

My paper shared here is drawn from my book, “A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan,” published ending 2011 and later accepted by Harvard Law College Library as a reference book on the subject.

Freedom of expression is often confused with freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a part of freedom of expression. The latter is an umbrella term that covers many a form of expression that includes the freedom of speech, but only as a part thereof. It is deemed to be a basic human right, that includes; freedom of thought, freedom of press, freedom to express oneself in arts, poetry, architecture, crafts, lifestyles, dressing, eating, culture, music, sculptures so on and so forth.

“Freedom of speech may be defined as the right to express one’s ideas and opinions freely through speech, writing and other forms of communication but without deliberately causing harm to others’ character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements. Freedom of press is part of freedom of expression.” (Definition by BusinessDictionary.Com) Freedom of expression is as a basic ingredient or a cornerstone to a functioning democracy. Freedom of expression is a term giving an umbrella to many types of freedoms including  most importantly, freedom of speech ;of the press, of association, of assembly and petition – all  protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The relevant portion of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution written in 1791 reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

A well- known quote, largely attributed to Voltaire, is originally of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who wrote under the pen name of S.G Tallentyre, known for her biography of Voltaire titled, “The Friends of Voltaire” Hall wrote in that biography, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” is the tenet on which the very principle of right to freedom of expression rests. This quote is often misattributed by some to be from Voltaire himself. Noam Chomsky, correctly stated, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

On December 10th, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states, “ Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” However, is this right truly inviolate? Does this allow hate speech? Racism? Breach against the security of a country? Contempt of Court?Defamation? The list is long and the question demands a hard look at the question itself. A balance must be struck here. A line must be drawn.

Every nation has the right to constitute laws to deal with new challenges. Laws are for societies. As societies change, so must the laws to meet the ongoing challenges of time. Interestingly, USA has passed The Trespass Bill, in August 2011. The Bill creates a “bubble” zone around certain government officials, dignitaries and areas, using a broad meaning, giving room to interpretation by the prosecutor. John Glaser states, “Starting with making it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, the grounds or buildings included as off-limits even cover those that the President – or whatever other official protected by the Secret Service – is residing temporarily. It would even include a peaceful protest outside a presidential candidate’s concession speech, for example.” He goes on to say, in the same article, “The government already has inordinate ability to crush free speech, silence protesters, and arrest civilians peacefully assembling, but this legislation would mark the beginning of the end of the First Amendment.” Obama signed the Bill in March 2012 that essentially makes it a federal offence to create disturbance at certain political events. (“Trespass Bill Would Violate Peaceful Assembly Rights”: by John Glaser published February 28th 2012 in AntiWar.COM)

I am discussing here some of the broadly accepted limitations worldwide on the freedom of expression and speech:

Limitations on Freedom of Expression

Let us see some of these limitations that create a bar against the right of unbridled exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

I would first like to discuss Hate Speech here as a justified bar on the right to freedom of expression. “Hate speech is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women.” In a piece carried by Defence Blog of Pakistan, by David Ben Gurion in 1948 during Israel’s Independence Speech, “The world Zionist movement should not be neglectful of the dangers of Pakistan to it. And Pakistan now should be its first target, for this ideological State is a threat to our existence.” (1948 Speech by David Ben Gurion) Geert Wilders, a popular Dutch MP, in 2008, released a 17 minutes film against Islam. Titled Fitna, the film demonstrates how the Koran encourages acts of terrorism, anti-Semitism, violence against women, homosexuals and infidels. “I don’t hate Muslims. I hate Islam”. (Published The Guardian (The Observer) UK, by Ian Traynor, Sunday 17 February 2008)  He had shown his film in the House of Lords in UK, sparking angry scenes of violence. So hate speech cannot be promoted under the guise of freedom of expression and speech.

Another limitation to the exercise of the right of freedom of expression is defamation. Generally described as a false statement against the reputation of another in verbal (slander) or recorded form (libel). It is vilification, aimed to damage the reputation about whom made.

Slander is verbal communication, which by virtue of being verbal is transitory in nature. Libel on the other hand has a permanent form. It can be in writing, broadcast or in any from where it may be referred back. Slander can be more difficult to prove as compared to libel. Witnesses to a verbal communication can be coerced, pressurized, threatened and bought. This however, does not mean that slander cases are not filed or not settled. Slander will be described as: “Speaking of base and defamatory words tending to prejudice another in his reputation, community standing, office, trade, business or means of livelihood.” (Black’s Law Dictionary Sixth Edition. Centennial Edition (1891-1991) Pg 1388)

During my research I came across a particularly interesting one that I would like to share. Las Vegas surgeon Mark Kabins was convicted of a felony in federal court, agreed to pay $800,000 to settle a slander lawsuit filed against him by an anesthesiologist. The allegations in both the civil and criminal cases stem from the treatment of Melodie Simon, who became a paraplegic after Kabins and Thalgott performed spine surgery on her in August 2000. The lawsuit accuses the defendants of making “false and defamatory statements concerning Burkhead’s ability to competently practice medicine.” The malpractice case settled for $2.3 million, but prosecutors argued it was worth much more. After attorney fees and costs were deducted, Simon received $1.3 million. Kabins’ plea agreement, which allowed him to avoid prison time, requires him to pay her another $3.5 million.” (Article published in Las Vegas Review-Journal by Carri Geer Thevenot published 7th March 2010) Libel is the second kind of defamation. Here, the ingredients of libel are (a)Words stated must be defamatory(b)it must be in form of a permanent record that can be referred back to, and(c)it must refer to the person of the plaintiff(complainant).Black’s Law Dictionary defines libel as “A method of defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures or signs. In its most general sense, any publication that is injurious to the reputation of another. A false and unprivileged publication in writing of defamatory material.” (Sixth Edition, Centennial Edition (1891-1991) Pg 915)

In a benchmark case, in 1934, Princess Irena Youssoupoff, niece of Russian Tsar Nicholas II, sued the Metro-Goldwyn Pictures. In the picture by the studio, “Rasputin and the Empress”, it was shown that the princess fell for the ‘mad monk’ once he set out to seduce her. She was awarded US$125,000 at that time, the biggest libel judgment in England. Monson V Tussauds case that again is a milestone in the history of libel, took place in 1894. The Ardlamont Murder took place in Argyll, Scotland in 1893. It led to two cases. The HM Advocate Vs Monson and in 1894, a case of defamation by Monson against the Madam Tussauds. John Monson was acquitted of the charge of the murder of Cecil Hambrough. Tussauds in the meanwhile had put up a waxen effigy of John Monson in its gallery of criminals. Monson sued Madam Tussauds for libel. Though Monson won the case and the lowest possible defamation costs were awarded, it did establish a new principle. The principle was “libel by innuendo”.

Innuendo will generally mean, “An indirect or subtle reference, especially one made maliciously or indicating criticism or disapproval.” (The Free Dictionary by Farlex) Libel is actionable per se . Claim of damages for publication of defamatory statement: “While determining damages due regard has to be taken of following factors: (a)Nature of defamatory statement (b) conduct of person responsible for its publication(c)conduct of such person after issuance of notice and after institution of case (d)degree of care and caution exercised before publication of disputed statement. “(Majid Nizami Vs Sheikh Muhammad Rashid: PLJ 1997 Lahore 652=PLD 1996 Lahore 410).

Incitement to offence cannot be allowed in exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Incitement to offence is a real encouragement to commit a crime. It can be through persuasion, threat, advice, and direct help of any kind. The intention must be for the crime to be committed. A plea that the person encouraging the other to commit an offence did not know the act was an offence will not stand. Ignorance of law is no excuse. Anger words spoken by politicians on electronic media, which has a huge impact in a country like Pakistan, irresponsible journalism by anchor persons whose words carry weight with the public at large, can have a cascading effect. It can result in acts akin to incitement, even if the desire to result in that act was not there, on face of it.

Incitement can be public ie encouraging a group of people to take a particular action and private incitement, encouraging an individual to do a particular act. Incitement to genocide was an unknown term, when Streitcher and Hans Fritzsche were charged and judgment against them passed in 1946, the grounds were crimes against humanity. But were they to be charged today for the same offence, it will fall within the ambit of incitement to genocide. Incitement to genocide became a crime under International Law with passing of this epic judgment against both by the International Military Tribunal.

Julius Streitcher , founder, editor, of anti-Semetic weekly Magazine Der Strurmer, was found guilty of spreading hate propaganda. In many letters and articles that he wrote himself, Jewish people were portrayed as, “a parasite, an enemy, an evil doer, a disseminator of diseases”, and “swarms of locusts that must be exterminated completely.”  The Tribunal found Streitcher guilty of incitement to genocide. The Tribunal judged that he “incited the German people to active persecution.”  He was awarded death by hanging.” ((1946)22 Trial of Major German War Criminals p. 501) Hans Fitzsche was a senior official from the Ministry headed by Goebbel for Proper Enlightenment and Propaganda. He also headed the Radio Division from 1942. He was accused of having, “incited and encouraged the commission of War Crimes by deliberately falsifying news to arouse the German people those passions that led them to the commission of those atrocities.”  Fitzsche was acquitted, the Tribunal having judged that, “…..his position and official duties were not sufficiently important……to infer that he took part in originating or formulating propaganda campaigns.” (Ibid)

Freedom of expression, like any other liberty, brings with itself a very heavy responsibility, on the shoulders of all of us exercising that right and in particular upon those who are placed in positions to influence policies, impact and form public opinion. At no stage, can we encourage criminal acts and then feign innocence or shrug off the responsibility that goes with freedom.

Whether incitement is against an individual person or a group which may be based on ethnic, racial or any other ground, it stands as limitation against the right to freedom of expression.

About the writer

Yasmeen Aftab Ali is a Lawyer and also holds a Master’s degree in Mass Communication. She has authored, “A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan,” in 2011. She is a weekly Op-Ed Writer for ‘The Pakistan Today’ daily national newspaper published from Lahore and has been teaching in a private university for 9 years. She is known as the leading Media Laws specialist in Pakistan.

The Ideology of Intolerance

This is a cross post from Pulse Weekly

ArticleYAABy Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Intolerance of views other than a nation, a religion, a culture, an ethnic group may subscribe to is becoming wide spread and manifesting itself in the unkindest forms. The spillover of this intolerance can damage personalities and psyches of nations. Religious groups are intolerant of other groups within; gender discrimination is yet another form of intolerance as is ethnic intolerance.

According to an interesting dissection of the ‘Ideology of Intolerance’ (A term I’ve coined to explain the growing number of subscribers to the creed) Intolerance of Others takes three distinct steps: stereotyping, prejudice and both then lead to discrimination. The Urban Dictionary defines stereotyping as, “when you judge a group of people who are different from you based on your own and/or others opinions and/or encounters.

Guy 1: I met this hot chick from Hawaii 
Guy 2: All women from Hawaii are sluts, I met one yesterday
Guy 3: You are just stereotyping. How can you judge an entire group of people based on one person?”

Clark Kent Ervin writing for The International Herald Tribune on stereotyping writes, ‘the vast majority of Americans – and many Europeans – do have a stereotype in mind when we think of terrorists, and that stereotype is of someone of Arab descent.’ He shares, ‘Stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason, of course. Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al- Zahawiri, are Arabs. All 19 of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Arabs. The late, unlamented Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s top man in Iraq, was an Arab. But even if it is to some extent understandable that we are more suspicious of those we take to be Arabs than we are of others, it is also illogical, politically incorrect and morally repugnant.’

Nevertheless, no matter how illogical, politically incorrect and morally repugnant stereotyping may be, it remains a fact that most of us subscribe to it to some degree or another- setting up mental barriers that stop us from knowing those ‘different from us’ better. Is this fear what keeps us entrenched in our comfort zones and separated from those who view issues differently? Stereotyping can create blocks that can be literally immovable.

Prejudice is the natural outcome of stereotyping. It is defined as, ‘Prejudice is a baseless and usually negative attitude toward members of a group. Common features of prejudice include negative feelings, stereotyped beliefs, and a tendency to discriminate against members of the group.’  Prejudice is a natural outcome of stereotyping and can be gender, ethnic, religious, nationality based to name just a few.

Once stereotyping and prejudice are clearly established, it leads to the crystallization of the unjustifiable behavior; in discrimination. María Elena Martínez in her book has tried to analyze how the concept of the purity of Spanish blood has been instrumental in being fundamental in solidifying the racial and patriotic ideologies in the bygone era of colonial Mexico. Her book published by Stanford University Press titled Genealogical Fictions Limpieza de Sangre, Religion, and Gender in Colonial Mexico has is recommended reading for better understanding of the subject.

In an absorbing piece in The Daily Beast titled ‘Don’t Ignore the Roots of Discrimination’  it says, “Last year, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination described Israel’s systematic violations, such as “segregation” and “[un]equal access to land and property.” as grave enough to necessitate a reminder of the “prohibition” of “apartheid.” This is the reality, and no amount of ‘co-existence’ industrial parks at home or rebranding abroad can mask it.’ (March 6, 2013)

Amnesty International on its official site states, ‘Discrimination is an assault on the very notion of human rights.  Discrimination is the systematic denial of certain peoples’ or groups’ full human rights because of who they are or what they believe. It is all too easy to deny a person’s human rights if you consider them as “less than human”. This is why international human rights law is grounded in the principle of non-discrimination. The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated explicitly that they considered non-discrimination to be the basis of the Declaration.

Yet discrimination due to factors such as race, ethnicity, nationality, class, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or health status – or a combination of factors – persists in many forms in every country in the world.’

It continues to state. ‘Discrimination in law enforcement can mean that certain groups are viewed by the authorities as ”potential criminals” and so are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned.  It can also mean that they are more likely to suffer harsher treatment, possibly amounting to torture or other forms of ill-treatment, once in criminal justice system.’

The cascading effect of this cycle is hate speech.

An online site defines hate speech as‘speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.’

Hate speech is not just restricted to Pakistan its widespread and an international phenomenon. .. “Hate speech is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women.” (Definition by In the world that we live in today, with geographical barriers down, a world fraught with wars, hatred and conflicts, can the world, and media in specific, afford to vent more hatred, more conflicts by ignoring the legitimate and valid limitation that must be taken into consideration while exercising the right to freedom of expression? Media plays a powerful role today, in terms of forming opinions and attitudes and the impact of media cannot be undermined. Above all, choice of words by media practitioners must be carefully weighed before delivering.

The comments by politicians, opinion leaders, media all are part of creating opinions and effecting those who follow. This in turn can have a cascading effect on the actions of the members of society. How a news is projected, what angle is given, the choice of words therein, can and does, create hatred. Since 9/11 , attitudes worldwide in non -Muslim countries towards Islam are more negative than positive. Though, Islam explicitly prohibits taking the life of another human being, sometimes perceptions become more real than the reality itself. According to a 201o, Time magazine poll, 28 percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and nearly one-third think they should be barred from running for president. (TIME POLL: ARTICLE TITLED:” Majority Oppose Mosque, Many Distrust Muslims” by Alex Altmani published Thursday19th August 2010)


Media can play a huge part in playing a positive role in correcting these perceptions and developing harmony between different religious groups inter countries and within a country. Unfortunately, media too, on many occasions, is hostage to vested interests . When hatred is fanned by media, of which social media has come up as a powerful means of communication, hate speech translates itself into actions that horrify.

Irresponsible use of freedom of expression is an abuse of the right. Those exposed to hate speech are all kinds of people, educated, uneducated, frustrated, maybe having faced injustices. It is the frame of mind; it is that one moment that may accept the full impact of hate speech in any form and commit an act, later repented, but cannot be undone.

Let us look at Pakistan and in particular the role of electronic media. Can the electronic media aggravate or mitigate hatred towards groups within? Are there any laws that may be used to curtail any aggravation?

According to the exceptions listed within Article 19 Constitution of Pakistan 1973, creating public order disruption is a violation of freedom of speech. Disturbing the public peace is punishable under Section 153-A Pakistan Penal Code. “The term public order has reference to the maintenance of conditions where under the orderly functioning of the government can be carried on. It is the duty of the government to ensure that the lives, properties, and liberties of the citizens are not endangered. The term public order is wider than the term public safety and implies absence of internal order, rebellion, interference to the supply and distribution of essential commodities or services.”( Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan published by PLD Publishers, 1996, by Justice Muhammad Munir, Formerly Chief Justice of Pakistan, Pg 359) Likewise PEMRA Ordinance (Amendment) states, “Sec 2(l) states, “not broadcast any programme inciting violence or hatred, or any action prejudicial to maintenance of law and order.” Sub clause (a) of Section 1 of Code of Conduct for Media; TV Broadcasters/Cable Operators states, “) Passes derogatory remarks about any religion or sect or community or uses visuals or words contemptuous of religious sects and ethnic groups or which promotes communal and sectarian attitudes or disharmony.”  Whereas clause C of same section states, “(c) contains an abusive comment that, when taken in context, tends to or is likely to expose an individual or a group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race or caste, national, ethnic or linguistic origin, color or religion or sect, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability.”

If we look at the Anti Terrorism Act 1997, clause 11 A sub clause (e ) says, “ Patronize and  assists in the  incitement of  hatred and contempt on religious, sectarian or ethnic lines that stir up disorder.” Sub clause (f) states, “  Fails to expel from its ranks or ostracize those who commit acts of  terrorism and present them as heroic persons.”

Public order seeks to minimize crimes like arson, murders, rape, targeted violence, striking fear in the hearts of people in their free movement. Lack of public order can be strikingly destabilizing for economies creating fear, hatred between coexistence of ethnic groups and sub-groups and destroy the base of a peaceful society. Activities that are either politically motivated or criminally motivated, create a cascading effect of negativity, like kidnappings, misuse of power, illegal detentions, so on and so forth. In situations of breakdown of public order, people may be caught up in a rush, be trampled underfoot and in cases of shootouts innocent bystanders may lose their lives.

Giving media coverage endlessly to those seeking the exposure, media inadvertently may play in the hands of such negative elements.  Giving coverage to events of public disorder endlessly create hatred within society at different levels.

We need to take a pause and take stock.

The writer is  a political analyst and Author of, “A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.” She may be reached at and  tweets at: @yasmeen_9