A day after the video of a candid, off-air chit-chat between two television anchors and real-estate magnate Malik Riaz Hussain went viral on the internet, the Supreme Court decided to take action against those behind the ‘planted show’.
This came against the backdrop of a disquieting corruption scandal involving Riaz and Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, the son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
Chaired by the chief justice, the full court, or all 17 judges of the apex court, expressed on Friday “its faith and determination in maintaining and further strengthening the independence of the judiciary, so as to ensure free, fair and impartial dispensation of justice by the court,” read a statement issued by the court.
The court reviewed the show’s on-air and off-air footage submitted by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), terming it a ‘conspiracy’ against the judiciary.
Justice Chaudhry subjected Pemra Chairman Abdul Jabbar to critical questions, particularly about his authority’s role in preventing the telecast of contemptuous and scandalous material against the judiciary.
“What action have you taken after the video surfaced?” Justice Chaudhry asked the Pemra chief.
A visibly embarrassed Jabbar came up with an evasive answer: The authority issues show-cause notices to those who violate code of conduct.
“Show us the action you have taken,” Justice Chaudhry asked.
After watching the video, the full court noted that “on the face of it, the footage showing the conversation behind-the-scene smells of a planned conspiracy to shake public faith/confidence in the administration of justice and undermine the dignity/prestige of the court, thereby tending to bring the court/judges into hatred, ridicule or contempt”.
“It further tends to prejudice the determination of pending cases before the Supreme Court. It, therefore, warrants action under Article 204 of the Constitution read with Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003,” the statement added.
The court tasked a committee, comprising Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, to pursue the matter and ascertain facts. The court resolved to call upon the Pemra chief to submit a comprehensive report to the Supreme Court registrar, who will then place it before the committee.
The court had directed Jabbar to submit a report and produce the full and unedited footage of the behind-the-scenes conversation on a CD along with multimedia equipment in the Supreme Court.
The video uploaded on video-sharing website YouTube on Thursday sent shockwaves in the media world as conversations between TV anchors Meher Bokhari, Mubashir Lucman and real-estate tycoon Malik Riaz appeared to be completely scripted. The video includes dozens of sound bites that would implicate the anchors of scripting the entire show.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2012.