KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Friday dismissed a petition challenging the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s directives to private news television channels to ban the coverage of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and its chairman Imran Khan following May 9 riots.
A two-judge bench, headed by Justice Adnan Iqbal Chaudhry, dismissed the plea after petitioner Mohammad Tahamas Ali Khan withdrew the same.
Mr Khan, who claimed to be a supporter and member of the opposition PTI party, had petitioned the SHC against the information and broadcasting secretary, the Pemra chairman and its regional manager in Karachi.
At the outset of Friday’s hearing, Barrister Tahir Ali informed the bench that his client sought to challenge May 31 order/directive issued by the Pemra chairman to all satellite news television channels on the directives of the federal government wherein the entire PTI, to which the petitioner also belonged to, and its chairman Imran Khan’s media coverage had been banned ‘de-fecto’.
He referred to the Pemra’s order, which stated that “attention of all the licensees is drawn to tragic incident occurred on ‘Black Day’ i.e. May 9, 2023 wherein state and public properties were attacked, innocent lives were endangered and anti-state sentiments were prompted, attempting to weaken Federal of Pakistan and state institutions”.
The regulatory body’s order further stated that “all such anti state activities were orchestrated by the politically charged up zealots of political party behaving largely as hate mongers to instigate political activists as well”.
It also opined that all such was done with ‘ulterior’ motives to ‘damage’ state and its esteemed institutions. “It is indeed a fact, such hate mongers, representing political outfits are abusing power against the Federal of Pakistan and state institutions by polluting innocent minds of public.
“This is unequivocally a very horrific trend which needs to be condemned and those involved in promoting such activities must be boycotted on media for damaging peace and tranquillity in the country,” Pemra order said.
Subsequently, the body ordered that “in the wake of aforementioned scenario, all the satellite TV channel licensees are directed to remain vigilant and not to promote any hate monger, perpetrators and their facilitators inadvertently” and “coherence and national harmony could be promoted and hate mongers, rioters, their facilitators and perpetrators are completely screened out from media.”
Barrister Ali argued that Pemra could not have issued such order, bypassing the Council of Complaints, as the Supreme Court in a recent order had settled that Pemra chief was not competent to pass any order without a complete quorum of the Council of Complaints.
He contended even otherwise the order was vague in as much as it did not specify to highlight any instance of when hate speech was delivered; therefore, it was a blanket ban on the coverage of all the aspects of the largest political party.
However, the judges inquired as to how the petitioner had been affected by such order of Pemra to which Barrister Ali said the petitioner was a supporter and also a member of the PTI, but failed to show any membership card.
Justice Chaudhry asked the lawyer to go through the contents of the impugned order, which had directed the television channels for boycott of the facilitators and perpetrators of May 9 incidents.
Barrister Ali said in the garb of such order the media had put a blanket ban on the entire PTI and its leadership.
Justice Chaudhry observed that rather the television channels should have come to the court against such an order of Pemra since prima facie they might have been affected.
The bench members observed that the counsel for the petitioner had failed to satisfy it on the maintainability of the petition.
The bench dismissed the petition as the petitioner’s counsel preferred to withdraw the same.
Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2023