Lahore, JAN 31: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to ensure that former prime minister Imran Khan as well as the candidates of all political parties were given “free and unrestricted” access to media ahead of the forthcoming February 8 general elections.
The order was passed by Justice Shams Mehmood Mirza on a petition filed by Imran — who is currently incarcerated at Adiala Jail — last year against Pemra’s decision to bar all satellite TV channels from broadcasting his speeches and press talks.
The ban was imposed with “immediate effect” after Imran had lashed out at former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa for what he called “protecting incumbent rulers in their alleged corruption cases”.
The PTI chief had subsequently approached the court through his lawyer Ahmed Pansota and challenged the ban, arguing that Pemra’s order was “purely driven out of vengeance”. The LHC had later suspended the operation of the order and sent the matter to a larger bench where the case is still pending.
However, Imran had again approached the court stating that his media coverage was still prohibited. At the previous hearing, Pemra’s counsel Haroon Duggal told the court that there was no ban on broadcasting the PTI founder’s speeches.
In a written order issued today, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, Justice Mirza noted that the Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct directed all media channels that any political programme should be conducted in an objective manner guaranteeing representation of all political parties.
“Clearly, the allegation agitated before this court by the petitioner is that the media channels breached the code of conduct when his [Imran’s] name was not even allowed to be taken in the programmes,” the order said.
It highlighted that the issue raised in the petition had assumed greater significance as “the general elections for National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies are on the horizon”.
“It is through the mechanism of elections that people exercise their sovereign right to choose the agents who will hold and manage the governmental power,” the LHC highlighted.
“[…] As the legitimacy of the elected representatives rests on people’s choice, it is self-evident that they must be provided with the best and accurate information about the candidates and political parties they are likely to make the choice from,” it said, adding that “meaningful participation” in the electoral process required “informed citizenry”.
The court further stated that the election process must contribute to a level playing field where all political parties and candidates are able to communicate their message to the people through all mediums. It noted that “space and freedom” provided to political parties and candidates in the run-up to polls was of “paramount importance for the acceptability of free and fair elections”.
Further, the LHC order observed that the government “has no right to prevent the media from covering certain candidates or political parties”.
“Similarly, the media platforms must be able to provide unconstrained access to candidates belonging to all political parties to transmit their opinions and manifestos to the public enabling them to make informed choices,” it said.
It also referred to previous judgments issued by the Supreme Court pertaining to the same issue.
“[…] Keeping in view the upcoming general elections, Pemra is directed to strictly ensure that the petitioner and candidates of all political parties are given free and unrestricted access to media platforms/channels without any constraints from any quarters,” the order added.
In the prohibition order issued last year, Pemra had referred to previous directives wherein all licensees were directed to “refrain from telecasting any content against state institutions”.
The authority had noted that Imran, in his speeches and statements, was “levelling baseless allegations and spreading hate speech through his provocative statements against state institutions and officers which are prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order and is likely to disturb public peace and tranquillity.”
Pemra had said that licensees telecasted the content without the effective utilisation of the time delay mechanism, in violation of the authority’s laws and judgements by the apex court.
“… therefore, the competent authority i.e. chairman Pemra in view of the above mentioned background and reasons, in the exercise of delegated powers of the authority vested in Section 27(a) of the Pemra Ordinance 2002 as amended by Pemra (Amendment) Act 2007, hereby prohibits broadcast/rebroadcast of speech(s)/press talks (recorded or live) of Imran Khan on all satellite TV channels with immediate effect,” the order had said.
The authority had also directed all satellite TV channels to ensure that an “impartial editorial board” is constituted to ensure that their platforms is not used by anyone for “uttering remarks in any manner which are contemptuous and against any state institution and hateful, prejudicial to law and order situation in the country”.
Challenging the Pemra order, Imran had pointed out that the IHC had set aside a similar prohibition order in the past.
The petition had said that Pemra issued the order “in excess of the jurisdiction vested in it and without having regard to the constitutional rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution”. It had further contended that the authority was not empowered to issue a blanket prohibition order, which appears to be “in violation of the principle of proportionality”.
The plea had argued that according to Section 8 of the Pemra Ordinance, one-third of the total number of members were required to constitute quorum for meetings. But the meeting which passed the order against Imran comprised only the chairman and three members which made the order “coram-non-judice”.
It had contended that Pemra’s order was “illegal, unlawful, more than its jurisdiction, and contrary to the fundamental rights as enshrined under the Constitution” and liable to be set aside.