Supreme Court moved against criticism of armed forces
By: Azam Khan
ISLAMABAD: With the long-awaited and potentially explosive Abbottabad Commission report purportedly complete and submitted, the Supreme Court has been moved regarding the media’s criticism of the armed forces in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden debacle last year.
The Supreme Court has sought complete details – including transcripts of TV talk shows and newspaper articles – of what a petitioner termed to be a campaign to malign Pakistan’s armed forces in the local media. The petition seeks a declaration that freedom of press and expression was not absolute, and subject to restrictions as mandated by Article 19 of the Constitution. The petitioner also sought a ban on ‘guilty’ TV anchors for six months as provided by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) rules.
The details have been sought by the court before it decides on whether or not it will issue notices to the respondents in the petition, filed by former deputy attorney-general Sardar Muhammad Ghazi – who raised questions about the scathing criticism of the armed forces and intelligence agencies in the media last year following a terrorist raid of the country’s largest naval airbase, Mehran, and an undetected raid launched by US special forces in Abbottabad to kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was found at stone’s throw from the country’s top military academy.
In his petition, Ghazi has named the federal government, Pemra, analyst and anchor Najam Sethi, talk show host Hamid Mir, Geo Television, and other analysts, including Ejaz Haider, as respondents. Muhammad Ibrahim Satti, counsel for the petitioner, held that there are restrictions on the media when it comes to the coverage of the judiciary and armed forces. He further said that the media criticised intelligence agencies without any proof in the wake of the Bin Laden raid and Mehran base attack.
During the course of hearing, the council also provided records of programmes aired by nine TV channels and clippings of newspaper articles to this effect. The court, however, directed the counsel to provide Urdu transcripts of those programmes by November 6, and adjourned the hearing.
Ghazi, in his petition, stated that a section of the media had launched a campaign to ‘defame, degrade, and demoralise’ the armed forces. He also questioned the presence of ‘hidden hands’ at work to promote a foreign agenda to ‘destabilise and denuclearise’ Pakistan.