SHC suspends Pemra directives to TV channels on hate speech propagators

December 09, 2023

The Sindh High Court on Friday suspended directives of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to TV channels for not allowing airtime to individuals who propagate hate speech and provoke public sentiments against federation and state institutions.

The interim order came on a lawsuit filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Zahooruddin Khan, who challenged the Pemra director general operation’s directives to television channels on December 4.

The Sindh High Court building in Karachi. — The SHC website

The plaintiff’s counsel Ali Tahir submitted that the impugned directions were yet another attempt of prohibition imposed by Pemra on TV channels from providing airtime to PTI members. He said TV channels were reluctant to provide airtime to the petitioner’s political party lest they should be subjection to action by Pemra.

The counsel submitted that the impugned directives were in violation of articles 19 and 19-A of the constitution, and in any case in the absence of the opinion of Council of Complaints under Section 26 (2) of the Pemra Ordinance the prohibition is beyond the powers of the Pemra chairman as held by the Supreme Court.

A single bench, headed by Justice Adnan Iqbal Chaudhry, after the preliminary hearing of the case, observed that though Para 5 of the impugned directives does not specify individuals whose speech and exposure is prohibited, the individuals so referred to are highlighted in Para 4 of the directives viz political activists who were involved in May 9 incidents and thus a clear reference to the PTI members.

The court observed that prima facie the prohibition amounts to pre-censorship also on the plaintiff and offends articles 19 and 19-A of the constitution. It further observed that the case law of the Supreme Court cited by the counsel supports the proposition that such a prohibition cannot be issued by the Pemra chairman without the opinion of the Council of Complaints under section 26 (2) of the Pemra Ordinance.

The court said the directives issued on December 4 also contain instructions to TV channels to which the plaintiff takes no issue but these cannot be isolated from the impugned directives. It issued notices to the deputy attorney general and Pemra for December 21 and in the meantime suspended the impugned directives issued by the director general (operations) till further

orders.