ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and 15 renowned journalists, anchorpersons and media analysts have filed a petition before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra)’s prohibition order to all TV news channels banning the broadcast of speeches, interviews and public addresses by proclaimed offenders and absconders.

Pemra issued these directives after Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supremo Nawaz Sharif’s speech was live broadcast by the electronic media while he was addressing a multi-parties conference via video link from London in October.

The petitioners include I.A. Rehman, Mohammad Ziauddin, Saleem Safi, Zahid Hussain, Asma Shirazi, Syed Ejaz Haider, Munizae Jahangir, Ghazi Salahuddin, Zubeida Mustafa, Najam Sethi, Nasim Zehra, Amber Rahim Shamsi, Gharida Farooqi, Mehmal Sarfraz and Mansoor Ali Khan. Vice chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council Abid Saqi and the HRCP’s Saleema Hashmi are also among the petitioners. The petition challenges the order Pemra issued on October 1 and another directive of May 25, 2019. Besides banning the above-mentioned broadcast, Pemra has also banned the broadcast of any debate on possible outcomes of sub-judice matters.

The petition contends that the order of the electronic media watchdog is “unconstitutional and illegal prohibitions have been imposed on the electronic media of Pakistan with respect to the dissemination of information. This prohibition is a constitutional wrong in its own right and amounts [to] nullifying the rights made available under Article 19A of the constitution”.

According to the petition, it is the right of the petitioners and of the print and electronic media in general to express, publish, disseminate, relay and broadcast the views and words of any person, including a convict, proclaimed offender or an absconder.

“Is a convict, proclaimed offender or absconder deprived of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution including the right to express, the petition asks.

It requests the court to declare Pemra’s directives illegal. The IHC chief justice will take up the petition for hearing on Thursday (today).

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2020