IHC issues contempt notice to Pemra chairman

Published October 30, 2019
Media regulator asked why it used court’s name to issue strict guidelines to TV channels and anchorpersons. — AFP/File
Media regulator asked why it used court’s name to issue strict guidelines to TV channels and anchorpersons. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday issued a contempt of court notice to Pakistan Electronic Media Regu­latory Authority (Pemra) chairman Saleem Baig for using the court’s name to issue strict guidelines to media houses and anchorpersons.

Pemra recently issued a notice to private TV channels, restricting appearance of anchorpersons on different television channels as analysts.

Since the court has already issued show cause notices to the chief executive officer of BOL TV and anchorperson Sami Ibrahim, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah appointed the advocate general for Islamabad “for prosecuting the persons against whom show cause notices have been issued”.

The court appointed eminent journalists I.A. Rehman, M. Ziauddin, Javed Jabbar, president of his own faction of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists Afzal Butt and Pakistan Broadcasting Association President Shakeel Masood as amici curiae in the matter related to regulations for private media houses.

Media regulator asked why it used court’s name to issue strict guidelines to TV channels and anchorpersons

Chief Justice Minallah was hearing a contempt of court case against anchorperson Ibrahim for linking the bail granted to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to a deal.

The IHC on Oct 26 grilled Pemra for not taking action against the broadcasters who were violating the code of conduct for them.

Subsequently, Pemra issued a directive to private media outlets in which contrary to what the court had ordered, the regulator imposed a ban on anchorpersons’ appearance as analysts in talk shows of different television channels.

When Chief Justice Minallah resumed hearing, he called the Pemra chairman to the rostrum and asked if the court directed the regulator to impose a ban on anchorpersons’ appearance on television channels as analysts.

Mr Baig responded in the negative.

When the court asked why then Pemra issued such directions to TV channels by giving an impression as if this court had given instructions in this regard, Mr Baig could not give a plausible explanation.

The Pemra chairman was also not able to show any provision which empowers the regulator to impose such restrictions.

The court observed, “the conduct of the chairman and the restrictions imposed through guidelines by giving the impression that these were pursuant to directions given by this court, prima facie appears to constitute offence under the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003”.

Regarding the anchorperson who linked the release of Mr Sharif with a deal, the court ordered BOL TV and Hum TV to submit recordings of their programmes in three days.

The court ordered anchorperson Ibrahim and the BOL TV’s chief executive to submit their written replies within seven days. Anchorpersons Mohammad Malick, Hamid Mir, Amir Mateen and Kashif Abbasi have also been directed to submit their replies.

The court observed that keeping in view the importance of questions highlighted in these contempt proceedings and the consequence in the context of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19, 19-A of the constitution, the court has appointed the eminent journalists as amici curiae. They are requested to assist the court, inter alia regarding scope of Articles 19 and 19-A in the context of administration of justice and matters which are sub judice.

As per the court orders, the amici curiae “will also assist regarding enforcement of code of conduct prescribed in Schedule A of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Rules, 2009”.

Mr Baig informed the court that Pemra since August this year had issued 70 show cause notices to private channels for violation of the code of conduct.

Hamid Mir sought the court’s attention towards unannounced censorship, saying that certain unknown elements tried to influence TV channels regarding their programmes or news content. He said in order to ensure the freedom of media such elements were required to be dealt with in accordance with the law.

Chief Justice Minallah remarked that he was aware of the issue as well but right now the court was not inclined to proceed in this matter. He, however, asked Mr Mir to suggest some recommendations in this regard.

The hearing was adjourned till Nov 18.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2019

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