Govt deploys carrot-and-stick approach

Lawyers term regulating court coverage ‘leftover legacy from Saqib Nisar era’

Hasnat Maik May 23, 2024
Misbah said economies with a more efficient judiciary have more developed credit markets and an overall higher level of de-velopment. PHOTO: FILE


The federal government appears to be persisting in deploying the carrot-and-stick strategy towards the superior courts' judges who dare to question the meddling of executive agencies in judicial affairs.

Despite high-ranking government officials agreeing to quell the executive-judiciary clash through discreet channels, the executive arm remains relentless in its pursuit of targeting judges.

Senators from the ruling benches have been grilling judicial conduct in the Senate for the past two days.

Following the PTI-judiciary clash, the showdown between the executive and media has kicked off anew, fueled by the Punjab Defamation Act 2024 and a recent PEMRA notification on court reporting.

The PEMRA has issued a directive instructing TV channels not to broadcast court proceedings of any case.

The aim of this directive is to prevent judges' remarks from being aired on TV channels. Normally, PEMRA refrains from issuing such directives without a nod from the higher judiciary.

It's no secret that there's a showdown ongoing between the judiciary and the security establishment, with PEMRA clearly picking sides.

In the wake of the development, lawyers are calling on the Supreme Court to demand an explanation from PEMRA about the legal grounds for banning court proceedings on TV channels.

Both the Press Association of the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court Journalist Association have criticised this notice and hinted that they might take it up in the higher courts.

All attention is focused on Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa to see where he stands amidst the current scenario.

CJP Isa has yet to throw his weight behind the stance of six IHC judges. The contempt proceedings against Senator

Faisal Vawda and MNA Mustafa Kamal will be a litmus test for him to see how effectively he can establish deterrence.

Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Riazat Sahar has slammed the PEMRA notification, labelling it a breach of

Article 19 of the Constitution.‘Democracies die behind closed doors’Commenting on the matter, former additional attorney general Tariq Mahmood Khokhar invoked Damon Keith's famous words, stating that "democracies die behind closed doors."He said that democracy and the rule of law are inseparably interlinked. "The rule of law requires that adjudicative proceedings must be fair; that all persons and authorities are bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly promulgated and publicly administered in the courts.”He noted that the principle of open justice requires that court proceedings should be reported in an open and transparent manner.

Read CJP recommends nine judges for elevation to three vacant SC seats

"The core basis of open hearings is that justice must manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. PEMRA’s amended directive adversely affects the rule of law and its role in relation to that principle,” he asserted.

It also repudiates the CJP’s decision allowing live broadcasting of the SC proceedings, he added.‘Leftover legacy of

Saqib Nisar era ’Meanwhile, advocate Abdul Moiz Jaferii pointed out that the restriction on commentary which may influence a court is clearly something the courts have themselves laid down.

"However, the second limb of the notification attempting to limit the coverage of commentary from the bench is an absolutely unreasonable restriction upon the media,” he noted.

He asserted that anything a judge says or observes, if newsworthy, merits reporting. Moreover, by permitting the reporting of livestream remarks but not others, is PEMRA suggesting that the commentary of certain judges is more favourable than that of others?

"Regardless; these notifications and advisories issued by PEMRA carry no legal footing and are a leftover legacy from the Saqib Nisar era where the court attempted to muzzle contrary opinions through PEMRA. It is frustrating that this regulator isn’t put in its place", he added.

Advocate Umer Gilani remarked that while there can be no dispute regarding the necessity of having a code of conduct for responsible court reporting, the current prohibition imposed by PEMRA goes beyond that.

"A blanket ban has been imposed on live TV tickers about whatever is going on in the court. Prohibiting TV reporting of all conversation between judges and lawyers is an overbroad restriction on freedom of speech and therefore unconstitutional.”

Moreover, he highlighted that it was not solely about speech as at stake here is also the principle of open justice which is enshrined in Article 4, 10A, 19A and Section 322 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Gilani further stated that if everything that occurs in court is accessible to the public, “how can we prevent attendees from sharing what they've heard with others?”

He asserts that PEMRA was essentially attempting to enforce a blackout on lawyers and judges, which directly infringes upon the judiciary's independence.


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