The Supreme Court on Thursday directed Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to take strict action against TV channels which are discussing sub judice matters in their talk shows.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, comprising Justice Umer Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, issued these directives as it announced the judgment of a suo motu case regarding the discussion in a TV talk show aired on ARY News, hosted by Arshad Sharif, with regard to a sub judice matter (matter under judicial consideration).
The apex court stated: "We issue a writ of mandamus to Pemra to ensure that the parameters laid down in the law and the code of conduct are adhered to in letter and spirit and that no violations thereof shall be tolerated by Pemra."
The judgement stated that the code of conduct ensures that the freedom of speech and the right to information (Articles 19 and 19A of the Constitution) are protected, and at the same time provides that the discussion of sub judice matters must be conducted in a manner which does not negatively affect another person's fundamental right to be dealt with in accordance with the law (Article 4 of the Constitution) and the right to fair trial and due process (Article 10A of the Constitution).
All licensees should be sent a reminder notice of their basic ethics and objectives, standards and obligations under the code of conduct, particularly Clause 4(10) thereof, in that, editorial oversight should be observed prior to airing of all programmes and any programme, the subject or content of which is found or deemed to be in violation of the code of conduct in its true letter and spirit, should not be aired by the licensee, the apex court ruled.
It stated that any discussion on a matter which is sub judice may be aired but only to the extent that it is to provide information to the public which is objective in nature and not subjective, and no content, including commentary, opinions or suggestions about the potential fate of such sub judice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court, tribunal, etc, shall be aired.
While content based on extracts of court proceedings, police records, and other sources are allowed to the extent that they are fair and correct, any news or discussions in programmes shall not be aired which are likely to jeopardise ongoing inquiries, investigations or trials, the verdict added.
The apex court ordered that, in compliance with Clause 5 of the code of conduct, all licensees should strictly ensure that an effective delaying mechanism is in place for broadcasting live programmes to ensure stern compliance with the code of conduct and Articles 4, 10A and 204 of the Constitution.
In compliance with Clause 17 of the code of conduct, an impartial and competent in-house monitoring committee shall be formed by each licensee, with intimation to Pemra, which shall be duty bound to ensure compliance of the code of conduct.
With regards to the monitoring committee, the court has directed that licensees include (for each of its meetings) at least one practicing lawyer of at least 5 years or above practice, with adequate understanding of the law to advise the licensee regarding any potential violations of the code of conduct by programmes to be aired in the future.
In compliance with Clause 20 of the code of conduct, each licensee shall be required to hold regular trainings of its officers, employees, staff, anchors, representatives etc, with a view to ensure compliance with the code of conduct, and the schedule and agenda of these regular trainings shall be intimated to Pemra through the monitoring committee.
If any licensee is found to have violated or failed to observe the code of conduct in its true letter and spirit, particularly Clause 4, and/or Articles 4, 10A and 204 of the Constitution, strict and immediate action should be taken against such licensee in accordance with Section 33 of the Ordinance, the judgement added.
SC accepts Sharif's apology
The bench also accepted the unconditional apology tendered by Arshad Sharif in view of the fact that he has sincerely expressed remorse and regret, promising not to repeat such reckless and irresponsible behaviour in the future.
"Did Zardari submit a false affidavit in the NRO [National Reconciliation Ordinance] case?" was among the questions raised and discussed during the programme.
Despite the fact that the panelists on the show repeatedly advised him that his comments may amount to encroachment upon the proceedings before this Court, Sharif insisted that the chief justice of Pakistan should call him before the court in order for him to point out the contradictions in the affidavit filed by Zardari, and to further respond to his queries.
The TV host, who appeared in court along with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, was taken to task by the chief justice for discussing the case during the show.
"How can you discuss cases being heard in courts [during your programme]?" Justice Nisar had asked, addressing Sharif.
"Comments like these [those made in the show] are prejudicial to court proceedings," Justice Nisar had remarked, warning Sharif of action against him. He had also termed the discussion akin to "interference in court matters".