ISLAMABAD, Aug 23: The Supreme Court of Pakistan wants formulation of a mechanism by the Ministry of Information Technology (IT) to empower a regulator to shut off disparaging or objectionable broadcast by the electronic media to protect society from polarisation.
“The IT ministry will look into the possibility of finding out such a mechanism so that Pemra can use it to keep the television programmes subject to the law, particularly the telecasts that disseminate terrorism or sectarianism and polarise the nation,” ordered a three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on Friday.
“Showing such programmes glorifies terrorists and encourages them to carry out their nefarious designs. But it demoralises the public,” observed the chief justice, adding programmes against armed forces and the judiciary should also be discouraged.
The bench had taken up a petition filed by Advocate Tariq Asad about the August 15 Jinnah Avenue stand-off when a cornered gunman, Mohammad Sikander, made the capital city hostage for several hours.
The whole episode was telecast live on the TV channels.
The petitioner requested the apex court to order control on the media so that it can act in a responsible way within its code of conduct.
He also called for the appointment of a commission to probe the conspiracy behind the incident in the capital city.
“There should be a system with Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to shut down airing of such programmes,” observed Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, a member of the bench, adding the licences issued to the TV channels bound them to follow the instructions of the regulator.
Though Pemra is not under the administrative control of the IT ministry, the department will look into the possibility of developing the system.
The direction came when Zulfikar Maluka, the counsel for Pemra, told the court that the regulator had pleaded with all the television channels to suspend the live coverage of the hostage drama for at least 15 minutes to allow the police to launch an operation against the gunman. But none heeded to the request, he regretted, adding the mediapersons covering the incident even scuffled with the police.
The counsel blamed 15 TV channels for violating the law on the occasion.
The court expressed surprise over the helplessness of the regulator and said the way it acted showed that the entire system was dependent on the cable operators.
During the proceedings, the role of the district magistrate also came under fire, with the apex court describing his perceived failure in handling the situation as a setback.
Unlike the provinces where the system of local government is in place, the federal capital has the magisterial administrative system.
But the chief justice regretted that this system had also failed. “Whether it is Islamabad, Dera Bugti or the far-flung tribal areas, the district magistrates have to play an effective role in protecting the rights of the citizens,” the chief justice observed.
Though the police cannot remain oblivious to their duties, the district magistrates are equally responsible for controlling peace as the head of the district administration.
The court also suggested to Secretary Interior Qamar Zaman to consider incorporating the role of the district magistrate in the terms of reference of a committee being set up on the directives of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to probe into the August 15 incident.
District Magistrate Amir Ali Ahmed conceded that the police did not have the capability to control a situation similar to the August 15.
However, he was asked by the chief justice not to defame the police.
Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed asked the magistrate to give his statement in writing.
Inspector General Police Islamabad Sikander Hayat further puzzled the court when he admitted that the capital police had only one stun gun that too was out of order.
The secretary interior, however, assured the court that the government was taking corrective measures that included identifying procedural failures and police training in the latest weaponry.
He added that the administrative machinery would come up to the expectation of the nation in future. The case will again be taken up on September 5.