PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court on Tuesday directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Inspector General of Police and federal information secretary to respond to a petition seeking a ban on interviewing suspects in police custody by journalists and individuals running social media channels.

A bench consisting of Justice Mohammad Ibrahim Khan and Justice Ishtiaq Ibrahim fixed April 14 for the next hearing into lawyer Jabir Khan’s petition for the Pemra’s orders to immediately ban the telecast of the electronic and social media interviews of suspected persons facing investigation.

The petitioner requested the court to direct the federal and provincial governments to act against media outlets, television channels, Facebook account holders and YouTubers telecasting and uploading the interviews of suspects during investigation and trial.

He also sought orders for the police to block the access of journalists, TV reporters, vloggers, YouTubers and Facebook activists to the police station and prisons for interviewing suspects.

Court seeks Pemra, IGP’s response to plea

The petitioner said that such interviews should be declared unconstitutional and against fundamental rights and the dignity of man as well as the fair trial promised in Articles 10-A and 14 of the Constitution.

The respondents in the petition are the federal government through information secretary, Pemra through its chairman, KP chief secretary, KP information secretary, and provincial IGP.

Senior lawyer Ziaur Rehman Tajik appeared for the petitioner and contended that it had become a practice of journalists and members of media outlets, YouTube channels and Vlogs that they interviewed suspects during investigation soon after their arrest in a utter violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, which guaranteed the dignity of the man.

He said that-it was a violation of the Constitution to telecast or upload interviews of suspects online by several electronic and social media outlets.

“Freedom of speech, press and expression is the fundamental right of every citizen as provided by Article 19 of the Constitution, but that right is also subject to reasonable restriction imposed by the law and that the integrity, decency and moral rights of an accused should not be violated,” he said.

The lawyer argued that interviewing a suspect in custody was not only against the laws of defamation and contempt of court but it also amounted to influencing the free and fair trial of an individual and impartial investigation, a violation of Article 10-A of the Constitution.

He said that as the old maxim went, an accused was presumed to be innocent unless he’s proven guilty.

Mr Tajik said that TV channels, YouTubers and vloggers interviewed suspects and tried to prove them guilty even before the conclusion of their trials by the courts of law.

He added that the access granted by the police officers to TV and social media channels was illegal as the accused were often declared guilty long before the commencement of their trials.

The counsel said that as the Pemra and police department had not been performing their respective duties in accordance with the law, media interviews of the accused in custody were on the rise.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2023

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