ISLAMABAD, Oct 15: As some petitioners battle it out in the court to prevent the broadcast of criticism of the judiciary on news channels, the government has silently passed new regulations that will allow free discussion of sub judice issues.
Pemra told the Islamabad High Court on Monday that it had passed its much-awaited Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (content) Regulations 2012 on October 11, and also sent it to the television channels. These new regulations allow the electronic media to hold talk-shows on sub judice matters.
Dr Abdul Jabbar, the Pemra chairman, believed that the regulations would help counter the anti-chief justice propaganda.
During the hearing of a petition filed to restrain the electronic media from airing defamatory programs against judges on Monday, the Pemra chief told Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the IHC that the new regulations had been sent to the Printing Corporation of Pakistan for publication in the official gazette. The court, however, directed him to submit a complete report by October 19 on the actions taken against the television channels which had aired defamatory programs against the chief justice of Pakistan.
The regulations said: “Programs on sub judice matters may be aired in an informative manner and shall be handled with utmost care.”
Justice (retired) Tariq Mehmood told Dawn that these regulations would create more mess. “Court proceedings should not be discussed in television programs; even the minute-to-minute reporting of cases is against the professional code of conduct.”
He added: “Reporters on several occasions in the past quoted out-of-context remarks of a judge in order to create sensation. In order to improve the situation, the coverage of court proceedings should be assigned to those who have at least some knowledge of the legal system.”
Syed Nayyab Hassan Gardezi, the president of IHC Bar Association, was also of the view that the discussion on sub judice matters should not be allowed as it would affect the smooth proceeding of a pending case.
Setting guidelines for the anchorpersons, the regulations added: “An anchorperson, while conducting a talk-show, shall clearly highlight the topic of the program and ensure that the discussion remains within the ambit of the topic.”
Any political or analytical program, whether in the form of a talk-show or otherwise, shall be conducted in an objective manner ensuring representation of the parties concerned and the anchorpersons shall treat the guests with due respect.
Pemra also set a series of obligations for its licencee television channels according to which the electronic media has been asked not to air offensive or derogatory jokes, words, gestures, songs, parodies, dialogues and subtitles against individuals or organisations. It directed the electronic media not to use any content that maligns or slanders any individual in person or certain groups, segments of social, public and moral life of the country.
According to some legal experts, the government would use the new regulations as a shield against their negative parodies in the infotainment programs.
Senior lawyer Ikram Chaudhry, when contacted, said the infotainment programs may fall victim to the new regulations. “But I don’t think the new regulations should be used as a coercive force against the infotainment programs.”
He said television channels should also take care while mocking political personalities and should not provide Pemra an opportunity to use the new regulations against them.
The new regulations also advised television channels not to air any program that brings Pakistan or its people into contempt or tends to undermine its integrity or solidarity as an independent and sovereign country or which promotes anti-national or anti-state attitudes.
“The licencee shall ensure that all militant groups or individuals notified by the government as terrorists shall clearly be so identified and statements of such militant groups or individuals shall not be aired. The licencee shall not broadcast video footage of suicide bombers, terrorists, bodies of terrorism victims, statements and pronouncements of militants and extremist elements and any other act which may, in any way, promote, aid or abet terrorists or terrorism.”
The regulations also asked the channels to air commercial advertisements in conformity with the requirements of the laws of the country, including those pertaining to protection of the consumer rights.
Rizwan Faiz, Pemra counsel, however, told Dawn that the regulations had been prepared after consulting the relevant stakeholders. He said the matter regarding discussing sub judice matters on talk-shows was also examined.
“The regulations make the talk-shows on sub judice matters conditional with fair and impartial discussion and it will never influence the proceeding of a pending case,” he maintained.