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LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Monday directed the Pakistan Elec­tronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to ensure no anti-judiciary speeches are aired on television channels — a decision that will lead to a bar on the speeches by ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz. The court also asked Pemra to decide pending complaints against Mr Sharif, Ms Maryam and other leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and also comprising Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Chaudhry Masood Jahangir, passed this order while hearing petitions challenging Pemra’s failure to stop broadcasting of alleged anti-judiciary speeches by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders since the removal of the former premier by the Supreme Court over graft charge on July 28, 2017.

The LHC bench also directed Pemra to decide on merit within 15 days all pending complaints against the hate speeches by respondents — Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Shahbaz Sharif, Nehal Hashmi, Khwaja Saad Rafique, Tallal Chaudhry, Daniyal Aziz, Ahsan Iqbal, Khwaja Asif, Abid Sher Ali and Pervaiz Rasheed — and submit its report to the court.

The court directed Pemra to strictly monitor TV channels content in order to ensure that no material carrying hatred against the judiciary was broadcast.

Pemra given 15-day deadline to decide on merit all complaints against respondents including Nawaz and Maryam

Earlier appearing on behalf of Pemra, Advocate Salman Akram Raja argued that objections to the power of Pemra were raised unnecessarily as the authority decided complaints under the law.

However, Justice Naqvi observed that Pemra prima facie allowed airing of the anti-judiciary speeches by dismissing the complaints on technical grounds.

Advocate Raja replied that the dismissal of the complaints on technical grounds could be a “minor mistake” on the part of Pemra.

“It cannot be a minor mistake,” said Justice Naqvi.

The counsel said another bench of the high court in an identical matter against former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf had directed the petitioner to approach Pemra. He asked the bench to also refer the instant matter to the authority for a decision in accordance with law.

Meanwhile, the counsel for Mr Sharif, A.K. Dogar, questioned the proceedings of the full bench and argued that the court was wasting its precious time.

Justice Mahmood told the counsel that the court’s notices had not been issued to his client so far. Justice Naqvi asked the counsel to advance arguments on his turn. However, Mr Dogar added, “It’s a public interest case and being a lawyer it’s my duty to point out wastage of the court’s time.”

Justice Naqvi reminded the counsel that the court would proceed in its own way not his. “The court is supposed to proceed in accordance with the law only,” retorted the lawyer before taking his seat.

The counsel for the petitioners, Azhar Siddique, argued that Pemra had intentionally failed to stop the broadcast media from airing the anti-judiciary speeches despite several complaints lodged with it against the speeches.

He said Pemra dismissed the complaints without merit. He explained that Article 68 of the Constitution even carried a restriction on discussion in parliament with respect to the conduct of any judge of the Supreme Court or of a high court in the discharge of his duties.

Justice Naqvi regretted that on television shows, people having no knowledge of law were seen criticising judgements.

Advocate Siddique argued that Pemra had failed to establish its independence as a regulatory body because it worked as a subsidiary of the government.

The bench upheld an objection of the registrar’s office on the maintainability of an application filed by the counsel for the former premier challenging the composition of the bench. The written order was, however, not released.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2018