The Supreme Court on Monday allowed televangelist Aamir Liaquat to host Bol News TV show 'Aisay Nahi Chalay Ga' on the condition that content aired on the show be devoid of hate speech.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) had issued a notification calling for a ban on Liaquat and the show on Jan 27 after the controversial host came under fire on social media for levelling allegations of blasphemy on air against civil society activists and bloggers who had 'disappeared'.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar, said a complete video of the episode and the content contained therein must be submitted to the office of the additional registrar (judicial). It warned that serious action would be taken in case any violations of the court order. All high court orders regarding the issue are now suspended.
The court issued the decision after a hearing on Pemra's appeal against the Islamabad High Court (IHC) judgement last week which suspended the Pemra ban on the show.
IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui had suspended Pemra's "impugned" ban prima facie, saying "it is the state’s responsibility to take action against the persons involved in such activity, so that they may be dealt with in accordance with law."
Pemra's counsel argued that Supreme Court had ordered Bol News early in February to cease airing all 'hateful content'. "It was a Supreme Court decision. Therefore, the high court has no right to repeal the ban."
However, Liaquat, who represented himself in the hearing, said that he was not party in the case when the apex court had issued the decision. "The Supreme Court's order was directed at the channel, not me. That is why the Islamabad High Court allowed my programme to go on air."
Pemra Chairman Absar Alam told the court that the regulatory authority recieved complaints against Liaquat, alleging that he was "spreading hatred" via his programme.
"But when we took action on the complaints," Alam claimed, "He accused us of being blasphemous and called us traitors."
Pemra's counsel also said that the apex court's decision to allow the programme to go on air would send the wrong message to the public as Liaquat "regularly speaks against ordinary people, putting their lives at risk".
The counsel further said that Liaquat "provokes" people to act in violent ways.
Liaquat, in his response, alleged that "Pemra wants to take away my voice. They want to strangle my throat."
"Why don't they just impose a lifetime ban on me so I can set up a stall and sell Nihari outside," he asked.
In response, Justice Maqbool Baqar said that if Liaquat is found guilty of defying the Supreme Court's order, it is possible he may be doing so in future.
CJP Nisar chimed in, saying that the court must trust government bodies.
"If these bodies are strengthened, people's rights will be protected better and the country will flourish."
"Don't push your agenda by disrupting society," CJP Nisar said while addressing Liaquat.
Nisar then ordered the TV host to comply with the code of conduct in the Pemra Ordinance 2002 and to submit a written undertaking that he would abide by the rules. Liaquat subsequently signed the undertaking.
The court also said that in addition to screening Liaquat's show's content, his body language as well as his hand gestures would also be examined.
Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan further said that the court aims to strike a balance between people voicing dissent and people spreading hatred, which is why it is not in favour of banning Liaquat completely.
"Expressing opinions is a fundamental human right," Ahsan added.
Liaquat was also instructed to submit a reply to Pemra within three days regarding all the complaints the regulatory authority has received against him.
In addition, Pemra was told to hold a meeting on Friday and issue a decision based on Liaquat's response.