It was March 2007 when I met my father as a journalist during the martial law regime. Aslam Mehmood Butt (Baba Jani) was a prominent journalist who explained constitutional violations committed by the then-military dictator, and that was my beginning in the field of learning how the political and judicial systems work. Baba said that never had a natural democratic regime prevailed in Pakistan. According to him, “it is hybrid or dictatorial, and we journalists and you, an upcoming lawyer, have to fight against this so-called system.”
He further said that this governance system, which is ruled by the elite, is consistently exploiting people with low incomes, and we, in between (the working class), have an enormous responsibility. That responsibility is to ensure the protection of human rights or rights for the unprivileged classes. He also insisted that we need to act as ‘freedom fighters.’ Accordingly, he meant that the journalists are true ‘freedom fighters’ in such hybrid and dictatorial regimes. He told me during the Lawyers’ Movement of 2007 that the restoration of the Chief Justice is not only for removing the military regime; it is a long-run move towards social justice and equity.
According to Baba, the state is primarily obligated to provide services to people experiencing poverty. He also maintained that the under-regulated roles of the press would come to odds with the courts, when they start issuing summons to journalists. He saw the need to uphold press freedoms as one of the few instances involving societal interests of greater import than the judiciary’s search for the truth. Therefore, he believed that journalists should have a privilege grounded in the common law and derived from the constitution of Pakistan.
Baba’s profile as a journalist and in the field of communications is determined not only by his theoretical reflections but also by his practical actions. His career is unique because he combines theory and practice in press policy. The result has not always been to his satisfaction, as he has seen challenges to his idealistic dreams of a new, more just, and equal global information and communication order and the practical realities of Pakistan.
He always substantiated his comment that poverty is the most significant hurdle in social justice and equity. Efforts to address poverty are frequently derailed by misguided ideology — particularly by the notion that poverty is best understood through the lens of inequality. Far too often, policymakers succumb to the argument that a widening gap between the richest and poorest is the fundamental problem to be solved and that poverty is merely a symptom of that deeper flaw.
He maintained that poverty, social justice and equity are always linked to fundamental freedoms, including the right to information and freedom of expression. Such concerns begin from a fact of the existing economy, which is that in recent decades, incomes among the poor have risen less quickly than incomes among the wealthy. And such growing inequality, some critics contend, is both practically and morally dangerous. A growing income divide can foster bitterness and animosity between classes, threaten democracy and destabilise the economy. Above all, Baba argued, it violates the cherished moral principle of equality.
Given the perspective of Baba Jani, he was a strong advocate of a redistributive model of the economy as an essential principle for freedom of expression.
He fought against illness for more than six years, and even during his illness, he always remained calm and advocated for freedom as a fighter. Here we saw a fatherly figure with the strong momentum of a freedom fighter.
He built us up through educating us, i.e., Baba’s sons and daughters, in Pakistan’s best institutions and went beyond his capacity to provide a good role-model for us.
We all are, and always will be, indebted to you! We love you and miss you, Baba Jani.
Sons and Daughters of Aslam Mehmood Butt,
M Jahanzeb Butt
Muhammad Murad Zaib Butt
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