LHC rejects pleas challenging Pemra bar on TV reporting of court proceedings

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Lahore, MAY 24: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday rejected two petitions against a notification from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) barring the reporting and airing of content on sub-judice matters.

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

However, where court proceedings were broadcast live, the proceedings may be reported, the notification had said.

It had also said that all satellite TV channel licences were directed to not air content, including commentary, opinions or suggestions, about the potential fate of sub-judice matters which could prejudice their determination by a court or tribunal could be aired.

The ban came amid strong remarks made by Islamabad High Court (IHC) senior puisne judge Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani about intelligence agencies and government officials in multiple court hearings on the case of a missing Kashmiri poet.

The remarks had prompted criticism from Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar who said that such remarks from court proceedings should not make their way into the public domain.

Pemra had subsequently barred reporting on court proceedings.

Today, Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh took up the separate petitions — filed by Advocate Samra Malik and Hafiz Muhammad Zainul Abdin — and clubbed them for hearing.

The hearing
At the outset of the hearing, the counsel for the electronic media regulator contended that Pemra had issued the notification in accordance with the law.

The counsel further argued that since Pemra’s head office was in Islamabad, the jurisdiction for this case lies with the IHC rather than the LHC.

To this, petitioner Abdin’s counsel Advocate Azhar Siddique replied that the LHC had jurisdiction to hear the petition. No complaint had been made to Pemra that sought a ban on airing court proceedings on television, Siddique claimed.

He asserted that tickers and headlines of court proceedings were prepared as per Pemra rules and regulations.

“Pemra has a Council of Complaints if court proceedings are misreported,” Siddique said. “In case of wrongful judicial action, the concerned court can proceed with contempt of court.”

“So far, no case of incorrect reporting has surfaced,” he said. “If a court asks not to air those remarks, that is obliged.” The counsel further said every citizen had the right to a fair trial.

Here, Justice Sheikh noted that when Article 19 of the Constitution (freedom of expression) was introduced, so was the Right to Information Act (Article 19-A).

The judge then rejected the petitions to the extent of striking down the Pemra notification of the bar.

Subsequently, the LHC issued notices to the relevant parties, including Pemra, and adjourned the hearing till May 29. It also summoned Attorney General of Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan at the next hearing for assistance.