KARACHI/LAHORE: While the Sindh High Court restrained the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) from taking any adverse action against private TV channels till June 6 for airing news tickers about court proceedings, a Lahore High Court judge observed that a larger bench should decide the petitions challenging Pemra ban when similar petitions were pending before Islamabad and Sindh high courts.

The SHC, in its written order issued on Wednesday, also directed the petitioners as well as all court reporters to demonstrate due care and caution while covering judicial proceedings for news channels.

However, it also observed that the petitioners were “not aggrieved with entire notification/ corrigendum nor could point out any illegality or defect particularly in the directive.”

Headed by SHC Chief Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi, a division bench heard the case on Monday and issued notices to Pemra, other respondents and deputy attorney general, directing them to file comments, with an advanced copy for their counsel, before the next hearing.

LHC judge suggests larger bench to hear challenges to bar on live coverage of court proceedings

Citing the Ministry of Infor­mation and Broadcasting, Pemra, Pakistan Broadcasters Association and others as respondents, petitioner Shahid Hussain and some other journalists, including court reporters, moved the SHC and questioned the May 21 notification of Pemra.

The prosecution counsel, the SHC noted, asserted that the impugned notification was issued without any lawful authority, against fundamental rights and in violation of the Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertise­ments) Code of Conduct, 2015.

The counsel alleged that Pemra while issuing the notification also misinterpreted a Supreme Court decision in a suo motu case in 2019 to the extent “further TV channels are directed to restrain from airing tickers/headlines with regard to court proceedings till the final order”.

The bench in its order stated, “Prima-facie, it appears that the petitioners are not aggrieved with entire notification/ corrigendum nor could point out any illegality or defect particularly in the directive to the extent it refers to the constitutional mandate and Pemra laws relating to legal obligation of the media/social media, satellite TV channels and the court reporters, while reporting court matters or commenting fairly on judgements/decisions, however, after final decision by the court.”

It further stated that the concerns expressed by the petitioners to the extent of placing complete restriction or ban on court reporting till final decision or order in case required consideration in the light of constitutional provisions, Pemra laws and judgements of superior courts, if any, on the subject.

Larger bench

On the other hand, Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh of the Lahore High Court on Wednesday observed that a larger bench should decide the challenges to the Pemra ban on live coverage of court proceedings.

The judge noted that the petitions involved important questions such as if the impugned notification was beyond Pemra’s code of conduct or Article 19 and 19-A of the Constitution; whether accurate reporting of the court proceedings was allowed by the SC specifically in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills Ltd (PLD 2018) case and would not prejudice the determination of sub judice matters; and if the ban impinged upon independence of judiciary and the concept of separation of power.

Justice Sheikh noted that the LHC also needed to decide whether it could hear the petitions when similar petitions were pending before the SHC and Islamabad High Court.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2024

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