Pemra issues notice to TV channels for 'unedited live telecast' of Maryam's press conference

Updated July 07, 2019

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Maryam Nawaz addressing a press conference with PML-N's top leadership on Saturday. — Aun Jafri/White Star
Maryam Nawaz addressing a press conference with PML-N's top leadership on Saturday. — Aun Jafri/White Star

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has issued notices to 21 TV channels for the "unedited live telecast" of PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz's explosive press conference in Lahore on Saturday, in which the daughter of former premier Nawaz Sharif claimed that the judge of an accountability court confessed he had been "pressurised and blackmailed" to convict her father in the Al-Azizia reference.

In a post shared on Twitter late on Saturday, the media regulatory body said that the unedited live telecast of Maryam's speech "against [the] judiciary and state institutions" was in violation of Pemra's laws and code of conduct.

According to the show cause notices issued to TV channels on July 6, a copy of which was obtained by DawnNewsTV, the airing of such content was in violation of the Constitution, the orders of the Supreme Court as well as Pemra laws and the Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015.

Pemra directed the TV channels to refrain from airing any part of the press conference as it would be considered a "deliberate attempt to violate" the directives as well as orders of the judiciary.

The media regulatory body said that the telecast of such content was in violation of Section 20 of Pemra Ordinance, 2002 as amended in Pemra (Amendment) Act, 2007 read with Clause 3(l) (h,j,l), 3(4), 4(9,10), 5, 17,22 and 23 of Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015.

Section 20 of the Pemra Ordinance, 2002 states the terms and conditions for those issued a licence, including:

(a) ensure preservation of the sovereignty, security and integrity of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

(b) ensure preservation of the national, cultural, social and religious values and the principles of public policy as enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

(c) ensure that all programmes and advertisements do not contain or encourage violence, terrorism, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy, hatred, pornography, obscenity, vulgarity or other material offensive to commonly accepted standards of decency

Additionally, the notice said that the unedited live telecast was contemptuous to the orders of the Supreme Court.

The notice stated that in a suo motu case order dated September 12, 2018, the apex court had "expressed serious concerns on unprofessional and biased programmes/content on sensitive matters and had ordered Pemra to ensure compliance of [the] code of conduct".

The TV channels were asked for a show cause within seven days of the issuance of the notice about why appropriate legal action should not be taken against the channels for the violation.

They added that if the channels did not comply with the notice, proceedings could be initiated against them under Section 29, 30 and 33 of the Pemra Ordinance, 2002 and an application for initiating contempt proceedings would also be filed with the Supreme Court.

Maryam's claims

On Saturday, a video purported to be about the conversation between accountability judge Arshad Malik and a PML-N ‘sympathiser’ Nasir Butt was played on a screen projector during a hurriedly called presser at the party’s provincial headquarters in Model Town.

The presser was held exactly a year after Nawaz and Maryam were handed prison terms in the Avenfield reference on July 6, 2018.

In the video, the judge appeared to say he handed down seven-year imprisonment to Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia Mills case under “immense pressure from hidden hands”.

Maryam alleged that the judge had contacted Nasir and told him that he was feeling "guilt" and "having nightmares" after announcing the "unjust" verdict against Nawaz, so he invited Nasir for a meeting at his residence, where the video was recorded.

The veracity of the contents of the video or any of the claims made by Maryam have not been independently verified by Dawn.com.

According to Maryam, the judge noted that Nawaz was convicted and handed prison sentence in the Al-Azizia and Avenfield references but acquitted in the Flagship Investment reference. "All three cases came out of one process [and] one pipeline but treated differently," she quoted him as saying.

Maryam said she understood she faces "a lot of danger" after disclosing the contents of the video, but stressed that she was "fighting the case for every prime minister who was subjected to oppression".

Demands for video’s forensic audit

Soon after Maryam's allegations, the government's chief spokesperson Firdous Ashiq Awan condemned the allegations made against Judge Malik, saying, "You [Maryam] have not accused one judge but the entire judiciary".

Terming the judge’s purported video fake, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Awan said its authenticity can only be determined through a (forensic) audit and asked Maryam Nawaz to take the matter to court.

However, Dr Awan had also reminded the journalists about legal and moral obligation in the whole exercise, as “recording someone without his consent is also a crime”.

She said: “Authenticity of the video played by Maryam Nawaz Sharif in her press conference can only be determined through a [forensic] audit and till then, it is a mere allegation. Credibility of the conversation and video content will be evaluated. Are they real or tampered? False or true? It will only be determined after the audit,” she reiterated, adding that the PTI government had nothing to hide from the people.

Taking a jibe at Nasir Butt, who was said to have allegedly recorded the video, the premier’s special assistant said people must be made aware of the character at the centre of these allegations. She said he was a business partner and friend of the Sharif family. She alleged that he was running several rings of hitmen and extortionists. After coming to power, she added, the PML-N cleared his criminal record, enabling him to return from abroad after more than two decades.