SC warns media against defaming judiciary
ISLAMABAD, May 12: The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and the information secretary to produce footage and news clippings of everything relating to judiciary telecast and published since Nov 3, 2007, and restrained the media from broadcasting and printing derogatory and defamatory material against the institution of judiciary.
A three-member bench comprising Justice Mohammad Nawaz Abbasi, Justice Mian Hamid Farooq and Justice Mohammad Farrukh Mahmud took up a contempt of court case against Geo television and daily Jang for airing and publishing a news item about a meeting between Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar and Interior Secretary Kamal Shah to discuss some sensitive matter in which two senior judges of the Supreme Court – Justice Muhammad Nawaz Abbasi and Justice Faqir Mohammad Khokhar — were also present.
The apex court has denied that any such meeting ever took place.
In a packed but tense courtroom, Justice Abbasi observed that Article 19 guaranteed freedom of the press, but did it mean a licence to insult or malign anyone. “Whether the media has some code of conduct to follow or enjoys unhindered freedom to do whatever it wants to do,” he said and asked who was paying for the advertisements relating to the judiciary appearing in the media.
“This is a very serious matter because it relates to the judiciary, instead of an individual,” he said.
The bench also took notice of the manner in which an explanation was sought from a judge by the TV channel when the court’s protocol officer inquired about the veracity of the news item.
The situation became further taut when during the hearing apprehensions were expressed that attempts were being made to silence the press at a time when the lawyers’ movement for reinstatement of the deposed judges was to commence again and restrictions on the electronic media were being imposed in a similar fashion as was done during the emergency.
On the intervention of senior counsel Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Senator Babar Awan and protests by journalists, the bench amended its earlier order that the media would not telecast talk shows and programmes or publish any news item regarding the apex court or its judges without prior permission of the court’s registrar.
On a court query, Islamabad bureau chief of Geo television Absar Alam said that he could have verified the news, adding that he was ready to resign if it was proved that the news was wrong and its language was derogatory.Mr Alam questioned the competence of one member of the bench members to sit and hear the case since the matter involved him and it was a settled principle that no one should be a judge in his own case.
He even asked the court to punish him right away and said that dissemination of information to the people at large was a constitutional right and it could not be curbed.
It was suggested to the court that the instant contempt matter was between Geo television and the Supreme Court and, therefore, the entire media should not be punished.
At the outset, Mr Alam requested the court to allow him four weeks’ time because the case involved press freedom and he could engage a lawyer. He said he would contest the case because it was his constitutional right.
The court directed Pemra chairman Malik Mushtaq Ahmad and Information Secretary Akram Shaheedi, who appeared on the court notice, to produce the code of conduct for the media on May 22, the next date of hearing.
Mr Hafeez Pirzada requested the court to grant him some time because the matter required interpretation of Article 19 (freedom of speech) and Article 204 (contempt of court).
“The power of the media has been recognised the world over, but intentions should not be to scandalise the institution,” he said, adding that judges always spoke through their judgments and the court should proceed very cautiously.
The court asked Senator Babar to assist it in understanding the concept of freedom of press in Islam and the nexus between contempt of court and the Constitution.
Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalist president Afzal Butt, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ) secretary-general Mazhar Abbas, Editor Jang Rana Tahir and a large number of journalists were present in the courtroom.