PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Monday moved the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) decision to bar all satellite TV channel from broadcasting his speeches and press talks.
The LHC registrar’s office has fixed the plea for hearing and Justice Shahid Bilal Hassan will take it up tomorrow.
On Sunday, the media regulator had slapped a ban on Imran’s speeches and press talks with “immediate effect” after he had lashed out at former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa for what he called “protecting incumbent rulers in their alleged corruption cases”. Pemra has also suspended the licence of ARY News for airing the clips of Imran’s speech at Zaman Park in bulletin.
Yesterday’s directives were the third such ban on the broadcasting and rebroadcasting of Imran’s speeches and press talks. The first such restriction was set aside by the Islamabad High Court on Sept 6, 2022 and the other was withdrawn hours after being imposed by the government.
In the petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, Imran named Pemra and the authority’s director (operations, broadcast media) as respondents.
The plea pointed out that the IHC had set aside a similar prohibition order in the past.
The petition said that Pemra had issued the order “in excess of the jurisdiction vested in it and without having regard to the constitutional rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution”. It further contended that the authority was not empowered to issue a blanket prohibition order, which appears to be “in violation of the principle of proportionality”.
The plea argued that according to Section 8 of the Pemra Ordinance, one-third of the total number of members were required to constitute quorum for meetings. But the meeting which passed the order against Imran comprised only the chairman and three members which made the order “coram-non-judice”.
It said that Pemra’s order was “illegal, unlawful, more than its jurisdiction, and contrary to the fundamental rights as enshrined under the Constitution” and liable to be set aside.
“The Impugned Order in effect has prohibited all news channels from airing live speeches of Imran based on spreading hate speech and making provocative statements against state institutions and officers. It is submitted that no hate speech or any such statements were made against the state institutions during his speech which entails such penal consequences as notified in the impugned order,” the petition said, arguing that the ban was in violation of Article 19 of the Constitution and the Pemra Ordinance, 2002.
The petition said that Imran’s speech in question had been “incorrectly labelled as hate speech” and his words were in no way “prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order”. It contended that Pemra was taking the statement “out of the context and political backdrop in which it was made in order to create censorship and inhibit the ‘freedom of speech’.”
It further said that the move to ban Imran’s speeches was an “arbitrary and malafide use” of Pemra’s powers to “stifle discussion regarding the torture and brutality being carried out against Shahbaz Gill and keep the public at large unaware of the developments in the case and essentially, thwart justice”.
It said that the order was “purely driven out of vengeance” and the respondents invoked criminal proceedings “just to illegally harass the appellants and stop them from pursuing their political activities”.
Pemra bans Imran’s speeches, again
In the prohibition order issued on Sunday, Pemra referred to previous directives wherein all licencees were directed to “refrain from telecasting any content against state institutions”.
The authority noted that Imran, in his speeches and statements, was “leveling baseless allegations and spreading hate speech through his provocative statements against state institutions and officers which is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order and is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.”
Pemra said that licencees telecasted the content without the effective utilisation of the time delay mechanism, in violation of the authority’s laws and judgements by the apex court.
“… therefore, the competent authority i.e. chairman Pemra in view of the above mentioned background and reasons, in exercise of delegated powers of the authority vested in Section 27(a) of the Pemra Ordinance 2002 as amended by Pemra (Amendment) Act 2007, hereby prohibits broadcast/rebroadcast of speech(s)/press talks (recorded or live) of Imran Khan on all satellite TV channels with immediate effect,” the order said.
The authority also directed all satellite TV channels to ensure that an “impartial editorial board” is constituted to ensure that their platforms is not used by anyone for “uttering remarks in any manner which are contemptuous and against any state institution and hateful, prejudicial to law and order situation in the country”.
In case of non-compliance, the licence will be suspended under Section 30 of the Pemra Ordinance, 2002 without any show cause notice in public interest, the order said.