SC orders TV channels to stick to code of conduct
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court decreed on Wednesday that a code of conduct for the electronic media, which was agreed upon on June 18, 2015, shall be considered to be in force until it has been notified by the concerned authorities.
The order came against the backdrop of a controversial talk show, aired by a private television channel on Aug 18, where the court’s decision to decline a senior counsel’s application for adjournment in a particular case was criticised.
The code of conduct asks channels not to air shows whose content is against Islamic values, the ideology of Pakistan and the founding fathers; or calls on people to take up arms against the federation or its integrity, security and defence; or that derogates any religion, sect or community and could create disharmony in society.
TV channels will not also broadcast anything that: casts aspersions on the judiciary or the armed forces, except in the case of ‘fair comment’; violates copyrights or property rights or incites; aids or abets, glamorises or justifies violence, crime, terrorism or offence; blackmails or intimidates any person.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Jawwad S Khawaja and also consisting of Justice Dost Mohammad Khan and Justice Qazi Faez Isa took the contents of the programme as offensive and an attempt to weaken the institution of the judiciary.
The bench was hearing petitions filed by anchorpersons Hamid Mir and Absar Alam and others, seeking court directions for the abolition of the ‘secret fund’ of the Information Ministry.
During the course of the hearing, the court was informed that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) does not have a permanent chairman. Subsequently, the bench summoned acting chairman Kamaluddin Tipu to explain his appointment to a post that was not recognised in the Pemra ordinance.
“Should we issue contempt notices to Pemra and the channel for airing the show,” Justice Isa asked, adding that the judiciary’s silence or restraint should not be taken as a sign of weakness or susceptibility to attempts to weaken the institution.
“We respect the freedom of the press, but abuse [of this freedom] is a different thing,” Justice Isa deplored.
Justice Dost Mohammad Khan also regretted the tendency of anchorpersons to deliberately pit guests against each other during talk shows.
An impression has been created as if the media is up for sale, the chief justice said, adding that this was adversely affecting the credibility of the media.
What shocked and dismayed the court was the ignorance on part of the acting chairman about the talk show and its content.
“Are you a fit person if you do not know what the programme was about,” Justice Isa asked. It does not serve the people when the credibility of an institution is destroyed, he observed.
The chief justice also admonished the acting Pemra chairman, saying that he would be considered complicit given his stance that it was not humanly possible to monitor all programmes aired on private TV channels. “The Pemra should be shut then,” the CJP observed. In an apparent reference to the Pemra ordinance, he observed, “These are worthless pieces of papers if Pemra cannot monitor and enforce its laws.”
“Will Pemra remain ignorant and inactive because it did not receive a complaint regarding a television programme that attacked the armed forces, or incited violence, or was contemptuous to the judiciary,” Justice Isa asked, adding that the Constitution as well as the Pemra laws placed restrictions on such programmes.
“On this point, you should resign,” Justice Isa observed, prompting Mr Tipu to respond that he was not willing to accept this job in the first place.
Justice Dost observed that the court could help the acting chairman relinquish the post if there was a compelling reason to do so and suggested that Pemra maintain an hourly situation report, so that it could suspend the broadcast of any channel the moment it received a complaint regarding a certain programme.
In the order, the CJP recalled that after a few hearings, a code of conduct for the electronic media was agreed upon between the government and the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) on June 18,
2015. But what dismayed the court was that the code of conduct that was agreed to 60 days ago has still not been implemented and no valid reason had been offered for this delay.
“As a result, we have been informed that a number of programmes have been aired that were clearly in breach of the agreed code, Section 19 of the Pemra ordinance and Articles 19 and 19A of the Constitution.”
The court regretted the federal government’s vacillation, which had led it to spend 60 days on a code of conduct that was already agreed upon by stakeholders.
The court also directed the federal government to transparently proceed with the appointment of a permanent Pemra chairman, in line with the procedures laid down by the Supreme Court in earlier orders.
The court also asked the Islamabad High Court to decide a pending appeal on the appointment of the chairman Pemra.