ISLAMABAD, Oct 19: The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) chairman caused a stir in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday when he informed Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui that lawyer Akram Sheikh, pleading the petition that Pemra stop TV channels from airing anything defamatory to the judges, himself had participated in such a program the previous night.
Pemra chief Dr Abdul Jabbar offered to provide the CDs of the program, and also the one that the same channel had aired on October 9, critical of the order that Justice Siddiqui had passed earlier in the day that Pemra “ensure” nothing derogatory to the judiciary is broadcast by the TV channels of the country.
Justice Siddiqui turned to Mr Sheikh, counsel for the petitioner Nadeem Ahmed, who said he made “fair comments” in the TV program Capital Talk of anchorperson Hamid Mir and did not scandalise the judiciary. He said he had always struggled for the independence of judiciary.
But some quarters were painting the petition, that seeks that Pemra restrain TV channels from defaming and scandalising the judiciary, as an attack on the freedom of expression, Mr Sheikh told the court.
Justice Siddiqui criticised “the sensationalism of private channels” and also Dr Jabbar’s excuse that an identical petition pending in the Supreme Court prevented Pemra from taking action against offending channels in compliance of his order of October 9.
“The apex court did not restrain Pemra chairman from initiating legal action against the broadcasters. He is giving a wrong impression,” the judge observed.
Justice Siddiqui closed the day’s hearing by directing the Pemra chief to provide the court the CDs of the programs of Kamran Khan of October 9 and of Hamid Mir of October 18 and put off further hearings to third week of November.When Dawn sought advocate Akram Sheikh’s comments afterwards, he accused the Pemra chief of “deliberately misleading” the court.
“Instead of providing them a factual report regarding the programs in which the judiciary was scandalised, he offered the court the CDs of other programs, including the one in which I participated as a guest,” he said.
“There is a difference between freedom of expression and scandalising an individual or institution. Freedom of press entails some restrictions also,” Mr Sheikh said.
Anchorperson Hamid Mir too is unhappy with Pemra chief. He told Dawn: “The Pemra chief is targeting me because of personal grudge as he has done at least three times in the past. He treats me as an adversary because I made Pemra a party in the petition for formation of media accountability commission and on our objection, Pemra was forced to replace its lawyer who was also on the panel of ministry of information.”
Pemra chairman Jabbar, however, claimed he was “implementing the court’s order in letter and spirit”.
In order to ensure airing of quality content, Pemra has framed new content regulations which have recently been notified, he said.
“In a couple of days, we will ask the broadcasters to abide by the new regulations,” he told Dawn.