Making Constitutional Reform Personal

Mar 23rd, 2010 | By | Category: The Nation, The News

Constitution of PakistanThe latest reports on proposed constitutional changes have brought many examples of a common problem in reporting, particularly about political issues –  making reforms personal.  This is done when reporters or editors suggest in their reports that particular constitutional reforms are aimed at a person rather than an office. In the current discussion, it is not uncommon to read that a particular reform is aimed at ‘clipping Zardari’s powers’, even though the reforms have nothing to do with Zardari, except that he happens to be President at this time. Furthermore, many of the constitutional reforms currently being discussed are actually part of a package of reforms that Zardari campaigned on, so how can they be targeting him personally?

Sunday’s article in The News by Rauf Klasra is an excellent example of this type of poor reporting. Klasra writes,

President Asif Ali Zardari’s sweeping powers to impose emergency in the country will be clipped in the upcoming constitutional amendment package…

Likewise, President Asif Ali Zardari’s powers are proposed to be transferred to the judicial commission and parliamentary committee of both the houses of parliament.

The powers described here do not belong to Zardari. They belong to the President. This is an important point to consider. If another person becomes President after the next elections, Zardari would not keep any Presidential powers. The powers belong to the office, not the person.

Consider the way that Rauf Klasra describes other proposed constitutional changes:

…the upcoming constitutional amendment package, which also envisages absolute powers to the Parliamentary Commission to reject, with two-thirds vote majority, any proposed judge of the Supreme Court/high court referred to it by the Judicial Commission of Pakistan headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

Notice that Klasra does not write, “referred to it by the Judicial Commission of Pakistan headed by Iftikhar Chaudhry.” This is because Iftikhar Chaudhry happens to be serving as Chief Justice, but he will not always be such. Actually, the office is not the man. So changes to the powers of the office are neither an affront nor a reward to the man.

The Nation also fails to properly report the reforms, also suggesting that the reforms are targeting an individual. In an unsigned report, The Nation writes that,

President Asif Zardari will lose prerogatives under the proposals, which are designed to guarantee the sovereignty of parliament and devolve power to provincial governments in a country plagued by regional insurgencies against the overbearing federal government.

This turgid sentence obviously more rightly belongs on the editorial page than in a news report, but notice that the sentence begins by stating that “President Asif Zardari will lose prerogatives.” Actually, Zardari will not lose any prerogatives, the office of President will return powers that had been previously seized by previous undemocratic governments.

This brings us to the next important point. The tone of many articles, not limited to the two quoted above, suggests that parliament is somehow punishing Zardari with the package of constitutional changes. Actually, Zardari had previously campaigned on returning powers that Generals Ziaul Haq and Musharraf had claimed for themselves.

Even the anti-Zardari newspaper The Nation admits in its editorial that “When [the constitutional reform package] is tabled before and passed by parliament, it will have restored the balance of powers between the president and prime minister…”

The Nation‘s editorial goes on to complain that Zardari is including reforms beyond undoing the changes, but they still admit that “This is not to deny that here is a need for some basic constitutional amendments beyond the dictatorial tamperings…”

When reporting on constitutional reforms, journalists need to take a non-political perspective. The changes have long been discussed and are no surprise. Likewise, they are changes to specific offices not specific individuals. To say that “Zardari is having his wings clipped” is incorrect and misleading to the public.

Please save the opinions for the editorial page and only report the facts.

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