Was Supreme Court’s ‘Order’ To Remove Dr Zafar Mirza Misreported?
On Monday, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmad made some scathing remarks about the government’s measures to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country. While hearing a suo motu case about the government’s handling of the ongoing pandemic, he expressed reservations over Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza’s performance and directed the government to remove him from his post.
The CJ’s remarks and his directives about the SAPM were widely reported as ‘breaking news’ by all mainstream news channels and websites.
But a few hours after the development, some supporters of the ruling party took to social media to say that the CJ had not issued any such orders about Dr Zafar Mirza. And the media outlets who had reported the development were accused of misreporting.
Many jumped here that SC asking government to remove Health Adviser Zafar Mirza was fake. But media outlets reported it!
Here’s @dawn_com & @etribune
What’s the ‘real’ news then? pic.twitter.com/s6aPe2jkWw
— Raza Ahmad Rumi (@Razarumi) April 13, 2020
So was the news about SC ordering Dr Zafar Mirza’s dismissal fake? The simple answer is that no it wasn’t, because the CJ did issue these remarks. However, the SC cannot legally or constitutionally issue orders about removal of a government official. The only way an official can be dismissed as per the law is by disqualifying them from holding office after a conviction and a proper trial. Conduct unbecoming and contempt of court are the most common charges on which public office holders are usually disqualified.
Since Zafar Mirza was not formally charged with any such doing, following the CJP’s directives is not a binding on the government. Moreover, the written order did not mention CJ’s directives about Dr Zafar Mirza because the attorney general had reportedly convinced the CJ not to include these remarks in the verdict.
CJP did mention directions for Zafar Mirza’s removal, in his remarks. But he was convinced eventually by AGP.
Thereafter CJP skipped this direction in the written order.
It wasn’t fake news. https://t.co/ByBOfBzj7A
— Mona Alam (@MonaAlamm) April 13, 2020
But the fact of the matter remains that the chief justice had in fact gone as far as asking the government to remove Dr Zafar Mirza from his post, and this has been verified by the court reporters who were privy to the exchange between the attorney general and the apex court bench. Just because the written order did not include these directives does not mean they were not issued at all.
Meanwhile, it has been observed that some reporters considered close to the government are practicing intellectual dishonesty by suggesting that the CJ did not say anything about removing Dr Zafar Mirza.
But here are the facts: Was the chief justice misquoted in media reports? No. He said exactly what has been reported in the aforementioned news reports. Is the government bound by the law to remove Dr Zafar Mirza after the CJ’s directives? No, because in its written verdict the court issued no such orders, which means that the directives issued by the CJ verbally were expunged from the written order. However, there is no law that can be used to stop media from reporting the exchange between the chief justice and the government representative that took place during the course of the hearing — which is what they did.
Therefore, accusing media groups who aired or published CJ’s directives about removal of the Special Assistant to PM of misreporting is unfair, because they merely reported the exchange between the CJ and the attorney general.