ISLAMABAD: The hotly-debated controversy surrounding the leaked footage of an off-camera interaction between two anchors of a private television channel and property tycoon Malik Riaz was taken up on Friday by the Supreme Court which set up a two-judge committee to look into the possibility of initiating a contempt proceeding.
A full court meeting presided over by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and attended by all 16 judges of the Supreme Court took strong exception to the off-air conversation between the anchors and the real estate magnate and nominated Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain to look into the matter.
Both the judges have already dwelt at length on the role of the media in blowing up and creating hype on unsubstantiated financial wrongdoings of Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, son of the chief justice. In their judgment on Thursday, they criticised the role of some TV anchors for demonstrating lack of due diligence in scrutinising and ascertaining the true fact of the case relating to allegations of a business deal between Malik Riaz and Dr Arsalan.
The issue of controversial clip consumed more time than discussions on other topics on the agenda of the meeting. Before commencing the closed-door meeting, the full court summoned acting chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Dr Abdul Jabbar and asked him to provide footage and script of the interview which he did.
The chief justice asked the acting chairman certain critical questions, especially about the regulatory framework and role of Pemra in preventing the telecast of contemptuous and scandalous material against the judiciary.
When the CJ asked if any action was taken against such scandalous programmes, Dr Jabbar said notices were issued to channels violating the law and actions taken on complaints.
“Day in and day out the judiciary is being ridiculed,” the chief justice said, adding that several attempts had been made over the last week to undermine the judiciary.
Later, the video clip was shown on a screen inside the conference room.
The acting chairman of Pemra was asked to provide the clip on a note of SC Registrar Dr Faqir Hussain on the ‘planted’ interview of Malik Riaz with anchors Mehar Bokhari and Mubashir Lucman on Dunya TV.
On the face of it, the note observed, the footage showing conversation behind the scenes smacked of a planned conspiracy to shake public faith/confidence in the administration of justice and undermine the dignity/prestige of the court, thereby tending to bring the court/judges into hatred, ridicule or contempt.
“It further tends to prejudice the determination of pending cases before the Supreme Court and, therefore, warrants action under Article 204 of the Constitution read with Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003,” the registrar’s note said.
It said the footage was available on YouTube and some other social media. The story got wide coverage in several newspapers and some parts of the footage were also shown by different TV channels. The footage indicated, the note said, the kind of questions to be asked, taking instructions for uninterrupted replies from the channel administration, putting planted questions, suggesting answers and a telephone call by Abdul Qadir Gilani (prime minister’s son) to one of the anchors.
The Pemra official is required to submit a comprehensive report to the registrar who will place it before Justice Khawaja and Justice Hussain for perusal and recommendation for further action, if required.
DISPOSAL OF CASES: The full court also reviewed a report on pendency and disposal of cases during the last six months.
During the period 8,217 fresh cases were instituted and 7,568 decided.
It expressed satisfaction over the rate of disposal of cases and resolved to reduce the backlog through quick and expeditious disposal.
The full court also expressed its faith and determination in maintaining and strengthening the independence of judiciary and ensuring free, fair and impartial dispensation of justice by the court.
The meeting termed false and concocted a statement of Malik Riaz during the interview that Dr Arsalan Iftikhar had been given a suite at the Balochistan House by Adviser on the Interior Affairs Rehman Malik on the direction of the registrar.
It recalled the court’s June 11 order in which Attorney General Irfan Qadir had been asked to arrange security for Dr Arsalan. It is pertinent to mention, the court announcement said, that the Islamabad police was responsible for necessary protection to Dr Arsalan, which booked a room in the Balochistan House for being more safe and secure.
Thereafter Rehman Malik made an unsolicited telephone call to the registrar, informing him about the allotment of the said accommodation. “It is unfortunate that a twisted version of the actual state of affairs was given by Malik Riaz to malign and cast aspersion on the court,” it said.