ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Saturday directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to submit the rules proposed to regulate social media and warned that constitutional courts never allowed the government to ban media as is happening in a neighbouring country.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah while hearing the case on media ethics and regulations said that constructive criticism was a prerequisite for nation building.
“Why should one [be] afraid of criticism?” asked the chief justice.
Well-known journalist Hamid Mir informed the court that the government has issued a notification to regulate social media; however, federal ministers are unaware of these regulations and they have openly admitted that it was issued without due deliberation of the federal cabinet.
Representatives of the PTA and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) informed the court that Prime Minister Imran Khan had constituted a committee to review these regulations after they received national and international criticism.
He further informed the court that these regulations had not been implemented so far since they had not been notified in the official gazette.
Chief Justice Minallah directed the PTA and Pemra representatives to submit details of these regulations and adjourned the hearing till a fortnight.
Barrister Jahangir Jadoon, the lawyer who challenged the social media regulations, told the court that following the arrest of Jang Group’s editor-in-chief Mir Shakilur Rehman, Pemra had allegedly asked cable operators to block Geo TV’s transmission, adding that subsequently the channel had either been blacked out or its number moved to the tail end.
When Hamid Mir pointed out that the Indian government had also shut down two channels a day earlier, Chief Justice Minallah made it clear that the constitutional courts would block any such move in Pakistan.
Hamid Mir also argued that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has flouted the court’s order as it arrested Mir Shakilur Rehman who was cooperating with the investigation officer.
He pointed out that the IHC recently passed an order where certain preconditions have been set to make arrest of an accused person.
Chief Justice Minallah responded that the court had interpreted the law and it was up to the authorities concerned to implement it in letter and spirit. He expressed concerns that Pakistan was at the bottom of the Rule of Law index likewise the country was at 143rd position in the freedom of expression’s list.
He termed it alarming and said that the government should have realised this grave situation.
Meanwhile, the court also took up a case pertaining to coverage of sub judice matters.
Kashif Ali Malik, counsel of the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association, submitted a report in the court in compliance with its order passed in January.
The report stated that “there have been a few instances in the past where the Court reporters have accurately conveyed the report of the Court proceedings, however, when published, it has somewhat an incorrect or misleading caption which created doubts on the veracity of the entire news report”.
Therefore, it is suggested that respective news editors should ensure a close liaison between the court reporter and the caption writer. Similarly, in the case of electronic or for that matter social media, anchorpersons/hosts must also take proper feedback of court proceedings from their respective correspondents/reporters before reporting or discussing that in their programmes, the report said.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2020