ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday took exception to the impression created through media that the Lahore High Court (LHC) had ordered the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to ban and put off-air former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz for their anti-judiciary speeches.

Reading through the headlines of every English-language newspaper one by one, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar asked Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf Ali to explain where the high court had banned airing of anti-judiciary speeches by a large number of persons, including Nawaz Sharif and Maryam.

The attorney general conceded that no ban had been imposed by the high court, adding that an investigation should be launched to determine how the fake news emanated. “I will also advise the government in this regard,” he said.

Later, a source said that the AG had written letters to the intelligence agencies to probe how the wrong impression was created.

The chief justice had taken a suo motu notice on media reports as well as panel discussions on different TV channels that the high court slapped a ban on Nawaz Sharif and Maryam.

Apex court disposes of suo motu notice over misreporting of high court order

While dictating the order, the chief justice, who was heading a three-judge bench, regretted that a false impression was intentionally sought to be created amongst the general public by such news reports as well as panel discussions that Nawaz and his daughter Maryam had been directed to be taken off-air and Pemra had been ordered to stop broadcasting of speeches made by these persons.

Consequently, the court summoned the five-page LHC order and after having become satisfied that the order did not in any way curb, restrict, curtail or diminish the fundamental right of freedom of speech — as enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution — rather it merely directed Pemra to enforce the law which it was obliged to do and decide the applications pending before it relating to hate speeches against any and all organs of the state, the Supreme Court later disposed of the case.

At the outset when the AG said he had the benefit of reading the order, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed observed that he was the only lawyer in town who had the benefit of reading the order.

Acting Pemra chairman Ashfaq Jewani assured the court that the monitoring reports had been compiled after which notices would be issued to media houses.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan dubbed the impression so created as an attack rather aspersion on the judiciary and regretted that Pemra had not only become toothless but mindless as well as speechless.

Earlier they launched an attack in person and now the attack had come in this form, the chief justice lamented, adding, “We do not need protection from any government because the people of this country will come forward to protect their judges.”

Justice Saeed regretted that lines had been crossed but said he was not ready to accept that the court reporters of Lahore committed a mistake rather someone manoeuvred since all media had reported the same thing. “Hats off to him [the one who manoeuvred],” Justice Saeed regretted, adding that “we must realise that we are living in difficult times.”

The court was also disturbed over the fact that Pemra did not defend itself before the high court since it was represented by the same counsel who earlier represented the PML-N and Nawaz Sharif before the apex court.

Advocate Salman Akram Raja, who was present in the courtroom, conceded that he defended Hussain and Hassan Nawaz in the Panama Papers leaks case and then the PML-N in the petitions against the Electoral Reforms Act, but said he had full confidence in his integrity.

He also insisted that he had a long-standing relationship with Pemra but he would bow before the court and withdraw himself from appearing on behalf of the authority.

Should we employ the NAB or the FIA to find out how such an impression was created, the chief justice observed.

The AG, however, asked the court to let him get into the matter and then he will share with the court what really transpired.

Later in the order dictated in the open court, the chief justice stated that a false impression was sought to be created that the fundamental right to freedom of speech enjoyed by all citizens and guaranteed by the Constitution had been curtailed, restricted or diminished through the high court order.

“We have summoned the order of the high court and carefully gone through the same. Perusal of the said order indicated that Pemra, which is a regulatory authority of broadcasters, has been directed to implement the law in terms of Article 19 of the Constitution read with Section 27 of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance, 2002, and Section 2(j) of the Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015. Further Pemra has been directed to decide various applications moved by a number of applicants for enforcement of law against hate speech within 15 days.

“There is nothing in the order which even remotely directs or obligates Pemra to ban Nawaz Sharif and Mariam or anybody else,” the Supreme Court observed.

“The media speculation, panel discussions and press reports appearing on various channels and media outlets and in various newspapers today are incorrect, baseless and unsubstantiated,” the court observed and added: “The opinions, verbal or in writing have clearly and obviously been expressed without even reading the contents of the order of the high court.”

The order states: “Both AG and Salman Raja agreed and acknowledged without any reservation that as guardians of the Constitution and custodians of the fundamental rights the superior courts of the country were mandated and obligated to ensure that fundamental rights were protected and enforced with full force and vigour with all their manifestations and strictly in accordance with the letter and spirit of the constitution and the law.”

The court noted that notices were also issued to Nawaz Sharif and Maryam and had directed the AG to convey the same to them to enable them to arrange their representation. None appeared on their behalf.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2018