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

24 May, 2024

ISLAMABAD: The Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS) and the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association (IHCJA) filed a petition before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) challenging the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s notification to impose a blanket ban on live reporting of court proceedings

The presidents of both the associations including Aqeel Afzal and Fiaz Mehmood moved the petition through their counsel Umer Ijaz Gillani advocate and cited the PEMRA chairman and the Federation of Pakistan through the secretary Ministry of Information as respondents.

In their petition, they stated that through the impugned notifications, the PEMRA has 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.

They added 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’ organizations 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 the 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 they 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 PEMRA chairman 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.

The petition continued that this court, faithful to its oath to defend fundamental rights, took stern notice of the habeus petition filed for his recovery. The live reporting of those proceedings drew considerable public attention which might have made certain cogs in the state machinery uncomfortable, resulting in the issuance of the present illegal and arbitrary notifications.

Therefore, the petitioner’s counsel prayed that this court may declare that the impugned notifications are illegal and unconstitutional and set aside the same.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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