Courts bar Pemra from taking coercive action against TV channels

After hearing petitions, IHC, LHC serve notices to Pemra chairman, information secretary


ISLAMABAD/LAHORE   -  The Islamabad and Lahore High Court (IHC) Friday temporarily stopped the PEMRA from taking any coercive measure against any TV channel regarding its notification imposing a blanket ban on the live reporting of statements in open court and issued notices to the chief of electronic media regulator and secretary information.

The courts issued the notices after hearing petitions challenging the PEMRA notifications prohibiting television channels from airing news of court proceedings and directing them to only report on written orders.

At the IHC, a single bench comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Aamer Farooq conducted hearing of the petitions of Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS) and Islamabad High Court Journalists Association (IHCJA). The court reporters’ bodies have challenged PEMRA’s notification to impose a blanket ban on live reporting of court proceedings.

The court said: “No coercive measure shall be taken against any TV channel, provided the notification is adhered to and followed in letter and spirit.”

Umer Ijaz Gilani, representing the petitioners, contended that the impugned notification violates Article 19 & 19-A of the Constitution. He further argued that no prior notice was given to the stakeholders before issuance of the notification and the same has been issued in violation of relevant Rules and Regulations.

He submitted that through the notification a prohibition has been placed on the satellite TV channels and licences to refrain from airing tickers/headlines with regard to court proceedings till the final order.

Gilani argued that by imposing a blackout on court proceedings without even consulting the judiciary, PEMRA is effectively committing an assault on the independence of the judiciary, bin addition to violating the public’s right of access to information, journalists’ of freedom of speech and litigants’ right to fair trial. “The notifications are also procedurally defective for reasons elaborated in the petition and thus liable to be set aside. Last but not the least, the notifications, which sound a death-knell for the profession of courtroom journalism, have jeopardized the right to livelihood of the members of the Petitioners’ organizations and amount to a violation of their rights under Article 18 of the Constitution,” added the petitioners.

The petitioner’s counsel informed the court that after the issuance of the Impugned Notifications, Show Cause Notices were issued to various Licensees for allegedly continuing to provide live coverage of court proceedings. In the wake of issuance of SCNs to Licensees, there is now an imminent threat to the livelihood of courtroom journalists. Many of these journalists have spent the first two decades of their careers covering the honourable courts; but now there are at the risk of being rendered redundant because of the media blackout being imposed on court proceedings.

They continued that the petitioners issued a press release condemning this assault on constitutional and democratic rights urging the authorities to recall the same notification. However, nothing was done by the Respondents, leaving the Petitioners with no adequate alternative remedy.

They maintained that while the impugned letters do not specify exactly what set of facts prompted Chairman PEMRA to issue the same at this particular point in time, it seems probable that this assault on judicial independence and media freedoms was prompted by the recent live coverage of the case of an eminent poet who has been subjected to Enforced Disappearance.

The petition continued that this court, faithful to its oath to defend fundamental rights, took stern notice of the habeus petition filed for his recovery. The live reporting of those proceeding drew considerable public attention which might have made certain cogs in the state machinery uncomfortable, resulting in the issuance of the present illegal and arbitrary notifications.

Therefore, the petitioners’ counsel prayed that this court may declare that the impugned notifications are illegal and unconstitutional and set aside the same.

During hearing at the Lahore High Court (LHC), Justice Abid Aziz Shaikh also ordered the electronic media watchdog to respond to its notice on May 29.

One petition has been filed by Azhar Siddiq and the other was filed by Advocate Samra Malik.

The petitioners argued that Pemra’s ban is in violation of Article 10-A, 19 and 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan. One of the pleas also requested the court to reject the prosecutor’s plea and declare it “inadmissible”.

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