ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has formulated eight questions for the media and sought suggestions to regulate content in order to avoid airing of objectionable material in television programmes.
The IHC chief justice framed these questions on Monday during the hearing of a case related to show cause notices issued to private television channels for airing talk shows in which the release of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was described as part of a deal.
“The contents of the programmes, prima facie, could entail prejudging the right to a fair trial,” the court observed.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah said he had acted in response to complaints received from different quarters about comments and observations made in television programmes, especially those concerning court verdicts and cases under trial.
The court asked about “the scope of press/media freedom in the context of the law of criminal contempt… the balance between the right of freedom of expression and preserving the integrity of the system of justice and upholding public confidence in judiciary… the obligation and responsibilities of a reporter, publisher, broadcaster and editorial management regarding pending proceedings and the restrictions required to be observed in order to ensure that pending proceedings are not prejudiced”.
The Islamabad High Court further posed a question: does publicity during trial or prejudging the outcome of a hearing or trial amount to criminal contempt under the Contempt of Court Ordinance?
It also wanted to know whether the regulatory framework was effective enough to ensure that sanctity and integrity of legal proceedings remained protected and whether the contents of the programmes to which these proceedings relate amounted to committing criminal contempt under the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003.
Keeping in view the consequences of these contempt proceedings regarding other conflicting rights such as freedom of expression, right to information and fair trial guaranteed under Articles 19, 19-A and 10-A of the Constitution, the court has already appointed journalists I.A. Rehman, M. Ziauddin, Shakeel Masood and Afzal Butt as amici curiae (friends of the court).
In addition, journalists Mohammad Maalik, Hamid Mir, Amir Mateen and Kashif Abbasi have been requested to assist the court regarding questions raised in these proceedings.
The court also asked office-bearers of the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association, Asad Malik, Fayaz Mehmood, Amir Saeed Abbasi, Owais Yousafzai and Saqib Bashir, to assist it with regard to coverage of matters which are sub judice.
The court order further noted: “Protecting press freedom and freedom of speech is of paramount importance for strengthening the democratic process and upholding the rule of law.
“Preserving and securing the integrity of the system of justice and people’s confidence in the judiciary is definitely the fundamental premise and object of the law of contempt.
“Prejudicing or obstructing justice in case of pending proceedings has nexus with safeguarding the fairness, impartiality and access to judicial decision-making process. Publicity of pre-trial proceedings is likely to lead to impairment of the right to a fair trial of a litigant.”
The court will now take up the case on Dec 18.
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2019