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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) directed the TV channels to adhere to and follow the notification of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) in letter and spirit.

PEMRA through the impugned notifications imposed a blanket ban on the live reporting (known in media jargon as “tickers”) of statements in open court by the various actors of the justice system including judges, lawyers, parties, and witnesses.

A single bench of Chief Justice Aamer Farooq heard the petitions of the Press Association of the Supreme Court (PAS) and the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association (IHCJA). The court reporters’ bodies have challenged Pemras’s notification to impose a blanket ban on live reporting of court proceedings.

Ban on live coverage: PAS, IHCJA move IHC against Pemra’s notification

The bench issued notices to the chairman PEMRA and the secretary Ministry of Information. The court said: “No coercive measure shall be taken against any TV channel, provided the notification is adhered to and followed in letter and spirit.”

Umer Ijaz Gilani, representing the petitioners, contended that the impugned notification violates Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution. He further argued that no prior notice was given to the stakeholders before issuance of the notification and the same has been issued in violation of relevant Rules and Regulations.

He submitted that through the notification a prohibition has been placed on the satellite TV channels and licencees to refrain from airing tickers/ headlines with regard to court proceedings till the final order.

Gilani argued that by imposing a blackout on court proceedings without even consulting the judiciary, Pemra is effectively committing an assault on the independence of the judiciary, in addition to violating the public’s right of access to information, journalists’ of freedom of speech and litigants’ right to fair trial. “The notifications are also procedurally defective for reasons elaborated in the petition and thus liable to be set aside. Last but not the least, the notifications, which sound a death knell for the profession of courtroom journalism, have jeopardised the right to livelihood of the members of the petitioners’ organisations and amount to a violation of their rights under Article 18 of the Constitution,” added the petitioners.

The petitioner’s counsel informed the court that after the issuance of the impugned notifications, show cause notices were issued to various licensees for allegedly continuing to provide live coverage of court proceedings. In the wake of issuance of SCNs to licensees, there is now an imminent threat to the livelihood of courtroom journalists. Many of these journalists have spent the first two decades of their careers covering the honourable courts; but now there are at the risk of being rendered redundant because of the media blackout being imposed on court proceedings.

They continued that the petitioners issued a press release condemning this assault on constitutional and democratic rights urging the authorities to recall the same notification. However, nothing was done by the respondents, leaving the petitioners with no adequate alternative remedy.

They maintained that while the impugned letters do not specify exactly what set of facts prompted the chairman PEMRA to issue the same at this particular point in time, it seems probable that this assault on judicial independence and media freedoms was prompted by the recent live coverage of the case of an eminent poet who has been subjected to enforced disappearance.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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