Defamation of judiciary: SC seeks record of actions taken against channels

PTA chairperson and FIA director-general summoned for next hearing on July 28

Naeem Sahoutara July 21, 2016

KARACHI: The Supreme Court (SC) directed on Thursday the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (Pemra) chairperson to submit record of proceedings initiated against the private news channels, where a campaign was being run to ‘malign’ the judiciary and the judges.

A five-judge bench, headed by Justice Amir Hani Muslim, also summoned the chairperson of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the DG of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to appear with statements on action initiated against the perpetrators of such campaign on the social media.

The bench passed these directives while hearing a petition filed by the Sindh High Court Bar Association (SHCBA) and others seeking recovery of the SHC Chief Justice’s son, who was kidnapped from Agha’s Super Market in Clifton on June 20.

At the last hearing, the court had issued notices to the directors-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau and FIA. At the outset, the judges were informed that Barrister Ovais Ali Shah had safely been rescued on July 19 with the efforts of the law enforcing agencies.

The judges observed that the petition to that extent had become infructuous, but it had also taken notice of the campaign launched against the judges of superior judiciary for maligning them at various occasions through social and electronic media. Therefore, it had asked for explanations from the Pemra and PTA.

Filing his report, Pemra chairperson Absar Alam said action was taken against the channel in whose programmes contemptuous language was used against the judges of superior judiciary.

To court’s query, he replied that the authority could impose a maximum penalty of Rs10 million on the defiant channels, but could not take any action against the individuals, and anchors.

Justice Hani observed that the institution of judiciary was given constitutional protection, therefore, the matters related to the judiciary or the judges could not even be discussed in parliament, and questioned how television channels can be allowed to discuss the same in their programmes? The judge further remarked that how anyone could be allowed to ridicule the judiciary in return of the fine amount?

The bench members directed the chairperson to submit record of proceedings initiated against those channels by July 28. It must include show-cause notices issued to the relevant channels and responses received from them by PEMRA. The authority will submit record of the personal hearings, if any, granted by the PEMRA or Council of Complaint to those channels to submit their defence and the penalties/conclusions by the PEMRA.

The bench expressed its extreme displeasure over absence of the PTA chairperson despite issuance of notice for appearance. Advocate Ali Akbar informed the bench that the chairperson was occupied in the International Telecommunication Union Conference hosted by Pakistan at Islamabad.

The court directed him to appear on next date with an explanation regarding action that had been taken against the persons, who were maligning the judges of the superior judiciary on social media and other public forums.

The interior secretary, Arif Ahmed Khan, informed the bench that he has spoken to FIA DG, who claimed that he had not received any notice, but the court’s record showed otherwise. In any event, he shall ensure his appearance on the next date of hearing, the bench ordered.

Adjourning hearing till July 28, the court repeated notices to all the officials, who were required to appear in the court on Thursday (yesterday).

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2016.


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