Judiciary-media relations at low ebb
ISLAMABAD: As confrontation between bench and bar is intensifying on different matters, romance between superior courts and media is reaching a low ebb after the Supreme Court’s July 24 decision to change the presidential election’s schedule.
Since the start of the lawyers’ movement, relations between superior courts and the media, particularly one big media group, have remained cordial and due to efficient media coverage of judges’ remarks, superior judiciary, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has emerged as a powerful institution.
Media personnel and lawyers had played a pivotal role for the reinstatement of superior courts judges.
But a major section of both communities – lawyers and journalists – has now started to raise questions about the role of superior judiciary after the court’s July 24 decision as well as issuance of a contempt notice to PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
Criticism is also being witnessed on TV channels by journalists against incumbent judiciary. Similarly, it has been noticed that Imran Khan’s followers have also started a campaign against judiciary on social media.
On the other hand, whenever a series of anti-judiciary TV programme is aired on different matters, media personnel face tough time from superior courts.
It is also going to be tough time for the media ahead, as the Supreme Court is taking up a petition today (Monday) against the media/all TV channels for telecasting the August 15 incident involving random shooting by a man on Jinnah Avenue in Islamabad.
Hearing the Balochistan target killing case on August 16 in Quetta, the CJP expressed resentment over the irresponsible coverage of the Islamabad incident by private TV channels and directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to take action against the management of those channels.
In the last week, on a note of the SC registrar, the chief justice also took notice of a private news channel programme, which was broadcast on August 13. In this programme, video of an attack on the Ziarat Residency was shown.
The Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA), which is known as an anti-judges bar, has also decided to hold a seminar of all Pakistan lawyers’ representatives on the issues of freedom of expression as well as overuse of contempt of court powers by the superior courts on August 24.
LHCBA President Abid Saqi claimed that lawyers had been feeling that after the court’s July 24 decision, freedom of the media was also under threat.
Earlier, when Arsalan Iftikhar’s matter was surfaced in June 2012, a series of contempt of court incidents was also witnessed, as the SC served notices on the owner of a media house and two TV anchors on a petition to initiate contempt proceedings against them for airing a “planted interview” of Malik Riaz in a special talk show on June 13, 2012.
On September 25, 2012, the SC 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 Supreme Court registrar to seek tax returns and verification of receipts from British companies which had provided services to Arsalan Iftikhar.
Likewise, on the direction of the Supreme Court registrar, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Islamabad police also investigated TV anchors for airing talk shows with Senator Faisal Raza Abidi’s, in which he tried to defame the chief justice. On August 6, 2012, the court had ordered PEMRA to provide a list of such TV programmes.
In October 2012, Islamabad High Court as well as the Lahore High Court (LHC) had directed PEMRA not to allow airing of any television programme or talk show in which judges and the institution of judiciary are defamed.
In November 2012, Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) had urged Pakistani superior courts to stop using their contempt of court power to prevent media from airing programmes that are critical of judiciary. The SC is also hearing two journalists’ petitions regarding the accountability of media for last one year but several journalists have faced embarrassment in this case.
The court in April 2013 made public the list of 282 journalists who received Rs 177,988,450 in payments and gifts from the secret fund of the Information Ministry. Asma Jahangir, counsel for two female journalists, had contended that the SC is defaming the media persons by putting their names on its website. On the other hand, the court refused to remove the names of renowned journalists, who approached the court to delete their names, from its website. In the same case, the court also stopped the government ministries from disbursing funds to advertising agents/media houses.
Although the SC is hearing the matter about accountability of media persons for the last one year and several hearings were conducted, still it did not entertain the application, filed by Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS) for becoming party in this case.
Journalists, who cover SC’s proceedings, had moved an application for the elimination of financial exploitation of media persons in different media outlets but now they are disappointed in this regard.
During the current year, SC Register Dr Faqir Hussain has filed a damages suit in the Islamabad district court against journalist Najam Sethi for publishing a news story in his weekly magazine against him. The matter is still pending in a lower court. The court has also sought reply from former senior officers of IB regarding the alleged payment of Rs 3 million to journalist Nazir Naji during the PML-N regime in 1998-99.
It has also been noticed that one media group got relief when the court hearing its petition on June 5, 2011, ordered PEMRA to issue a broadcasting licence to Geo Super immediately. Likewise, the court taking serious notice over the findings of Media Commission against the same media group for receiving heavy foreign sponsorship for its programmes has asked PEMRA chairman and other officials to explain their position
Later on, PEMRA tendered an apology before the SC for levelling allegations of getting foreign funding against private TV channel programmes Aman Ki Asha and Zara Sochiye.
On the other hand, a number of legal experts such as Babar Sattar are urging the SC to review the courts’ relationship with the media and the bar and rebuild its self-image as a neutral arbiter of the law.