ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: While the Islamabad High Court on Friday restrained the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) from taking any adverse action against private television channels for court reporting, the Lahore High Court issued notices to the federal government and the regulator on petitions challenging the ban on live coverage of judicial proceedings.

IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq issued the order while taking up a petition filed by the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association (IHCBA) and Press Association of Supreme Court against a Pemra notification barring court reporting and broadcasting programmes on sub judice matters.

According to the notification issued by Pemra on Tuesday, TV channels were directed to “refrain from airing tickers/headlines with regard to court proceedings and shall only report the written orders of court”.

The counsel of the petitioner, Barrister Umar Ijaz Gillani, contended before the court that the electronic media regulator misinterpreted the relevant rules and judgement of the Supreme Court to impose a blanket ban on the coverage of pending cases. He termed the notification an attack on the access to information and democratic rights of the citizens.

LHC issues notices to govt, regulator on challenges to ban on live coverage

The counsel contended that the notification was contradictory to the Pemra Ordinance and constitutional provisions and requested the court to set aside the same.

After preliminary hearing, Justice Farooq issued notices to Pemra authorities.

Though the counsel requested the court to suspend the notification, the chief justice gave some protection to the television channels in the interim order, which stated: “No coercive measure shall be taken against any TV channel, provided the notification is adhered to and followed in letter and spirit.”

The court adjourned the hearing till May 28.

LHC issues notices

While issuing notices to the federal government and Pemra, Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh of the LHC observed that the questions raised in the two petitions were important, requiring determination by interpreting various articles of the Constitution and provisions of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 and the code of conduct of regulator.

Earlier, Pemra’s counsel Imran Arif Ranjha questioned the maintainability of the petitions and argued that against the impugned directive, a remedy of appeal under Section 30-A of the 2002 ordinance was available in the relevant high court.

He contended that since IHC had alre­ady issued notices, the petitions in hand were not maintainable as per the settled law. He said directives/guidelines, including the impugned directive to the licensees/channels, could be issued under regulation 18 of the Television, Broadcast, Sta­­­tion Operation Regulation 2012 fram­­ed under section 39 of the 2002 ordinance.

An assistant attorney general also reiterated the arguments of Pemra’s counsel and said the impugned directive was reasonable and imperative to ensure fair adjudication of pending matters in courts.

Advocate Azhar Siddique, the counsel for one of the petitioners, responded to the government’s objections, saying there were no proceedings initiated, which culminated into the impugned ban and, therefore, an appeal under the ordinance was neither available nor an adequate alternative remedy.

He said Pemra was a federal agency and, therefore, the LHC also had a concurrent jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter.

Justice Sheikh issued notices to the respondents, asking them to submit replies by May 29. The judge also asked the attorney general for Pakistan to assist the court in the matter.

The petitioners pleaded that Pemra had been acting under political pressure of the government, which was already hostile to media’s rights as guaranteed under articles 19 & 19A of the Constitution. They said Pemra committed gross illegality by not investigating and thoroughly examining the issue in accordance with the touchstone of the relevant laws.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2024

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