PESHAWAR: Peshawar High Court has declared illegal interviewing of suspected criminals in police’s custody by journalists and social media activists.

A bench consisting of Justice Waqar Ahmad and Justice Fazal Subhan accepted a petition filed by a lawyer, Jabir Khan, who sought orders for Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to immediately ban telecast of media interviews of crime suspects during their investigation.

The bench pronounced a short order and detailed judgement would be released later. The petitioner had requested the court to direct federal and provincial governments to act against media outlets, television channels, Facebook account holders and YouTubers telecasting and uploading the interviews of suspected outlaws during investigation and trial.

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

Bench issues short order in petition filed by lawyer

In February this year, a bench had issued a stay order and stopped interviewing of crime suspects during custody. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police in their comments had requested the court to reject the petitioner’s plea, stating that it was not maintainable.

They had stated that there was no prohibition in any law to stop interviews of suspects in custody.

Senior lawyer Ziaur Rehman Tajik appeared for the petitioner and 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.

He pointed out that section 20 of Pemra Ordinance provided that a licence-holder should ensure that all programmes and advertisements did not contain or encourage violence, terrorism, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, material offensive to commonly accepted standards of decency, etc.

Rebutting the police point of view that a complaint could be filed under Pemra Ordinance on the issue, the counsel stated that because of having no licence with any social media activist, YouTubers, Facebook activists and Vloggers, they didn’t come within the ambit of Pemra.

He contended that it had become a practice of journalists and members of media outlets, YouTube channels and Vlogs that they interviewed suspected outlaws during investigation soon after their arrest in utter violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, which guaranteed the dignity of man.

Mr Tajik said that it was a violation of the Constitution by several electronic and social media outlets to telecast or upload interviews of suspected criminals online.

“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 contended that such practices affected trials of the accused. He argued that interviewing a suspected criminal 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.

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

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

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2024

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