Media-related cases in superior courts on the rise
By: Hasnaat Malik
ISLAMABAD: Cases pertaining to the media are on the rise in the superior courts as several have been instituted in this regard since June 2012.
Since the start of the lawyers’ movement, relationship between the superior courts and media has been cordial and the chief justice of Pakistan has taken most of the high profile suo motu notices on the basis of news reports. Similarly, due to efficient coverage by the media which has highlighted observations of judges, public image of the judiciary is much better today than other institutions of the state. But despite this it has been noticed that court’s proceedings related to media have been dominant since June 2012.
The court on June 15 took suo motu notice over an interview of business tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain by Dunya TV on June 13 and issued notices to the two TV anchors who conducted the interview as well as the media group’s owner. Likewise, the court on September 25 indicted the chief editor of an English magazine for scandalising and disrespecting the judiciary by publishing a news report about an email allegedly written by the SC registrar to seek tax returns and verification of receipts from British companies which had provided services to Dr Arsalan Iftikhar.
A two-member bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Jawwad S Khawaja had framed charges against two journalists – Mohsin Beg and Samar Rao, production editor of the magazine – for publication of false news regarding Supreme Court Registrar Dr Faqir Hussain. All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editor (CPNE) have tried to settle the matter but the court did not stop contempt proceeding against the alleged contemnor journalists.
Likewise, on the direction of the SC Registrar, Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) and Islamabad police are also probing TV anchors for doing talk shows with Senator Faisal Raza Abidi’s, in which he tried to defame the chief justice of Pakistan. Taking notice of private TV channels allegedly ridiculing the judiciary, on August 6 the court had ordered PEMRA to provide a list of such TV programmes A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by CJP himself observed that TV channels were now airing press conferences and programmes against the judiciary, and that the court was aware of certain talk shows that were aired for the sole purpose of maligning the judiciary. Same bench is also hearing the case against alleged obscenity on TV channels.
In this month, Islamabad High Court as well as the Lahore High Court (LHC) have directed PEMRA not to allow airing of any television programme or talk show in which judges and the institution of judiciary are defamed. In the last week, the apex court had also discussed the role of media during the hearing of dual nationality case. Meanwhile, the court has taken up two senior journalists’ petition for the formation of a commission about the accountability of media persons.
The SC on Monday sought complete details along with transcript of TV programmes before issuing notices to media persons and anchors on a petition moved against TV talk shows that allegedly maligned the armed forces and secret agencies after the Abbottabad operation and attack on Mehran Air Base in 2011.The court has also taken up 12-year-old petition of MQM in which the party had questioned the policy of state-run PTV.
On the other hand, Shahid Orakzai, a freelance journalist, on Tuesday filed a petition in the Supreme Court, with a request to suspend an order of the Islamabad High Court wherein PEMRA was directed to impose a ban on live telecast of any offensive press conference or programme about the chief justice of Pakistan. He stated that the Islamabad High Court had literally abolished the fundamental rights of the freedom of speech and expression while issuing such instructions to PEMRA.
“The order has terribly frightened, rather terrorised the working journalists all over Pakistan, who have consequently adopted a tight lip approach about any word of truth that relates to a judge,” Orakzai contended. The petitioner asserted that the specific fundamental rights could be suspended only through the procedure laid down in Article 233 and after the president of Pakistan issues a proclamation of emergency.
He recalled that Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court on October 9 directed PEMRA to ensure that no programme containing “uncommendable, malicious and wicked material” is telecast by any of the channels in which the person of the chief justice of Pakistan is criticised, ridiculed and defamed. He stated that the petitioner through his counsel Muhammad Akram Sheikh had cautioned the high court about a new attack against the chief justice of Pakistan through another live press conference which would be so nasty that it will leave the CJP no choice except to resign and go home.
While seeking leave to appeal, Shahid Orkazai contended that a fundamental right could not be suspended for the sake of reputation of an individual, be he the president of Pakistan. He further submitted that the rumours about the attack and the high court’s acceptance of Akram Sheikh’s plea was creating misgivings about the person of the chief justice because it made no mention of discharge of duties by him.