Tuesday June 25, 2024

Superior courts moved against Pemra's ‘blanket ban’ on court reporting

Petition prays IHC to suspend “operation” of Pemra notification; pleas filed in SHC, LHC as well

By Awais Yousafzai
May 23, 2024
A view of Pemra building in Islamabad in this undated image. — Ministry of Information
A view of Pemra building in Islamabad in this undated image. — Ministry of Information

Journalist associations filed three separate petitions in the superior courts against the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority's (Pemra) notification barring TV channels from covering court proceedings.

In a notification issued on May 21, the media watchdog directed all satellite news channel licences that no content, including commentary, opinions, or suggestions about the potential fate of such sub-judice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court shall be aired.

“Further, TV Channels are directed to refrain from airing tickers/headlines with regard to court proceedings till the final order,” it added.

All satellite TV channel licensees were also directed to ensure strict compliance with the Pemra laws in line with the judgment of the Supreme Court “in Suo Moto Case No. 28 of 2018 (reported as 2019 PLD SC 1) in letter and spirit”.

The media watchdog also warned of legal action in case of any violation.

The petition filed by the court reporters’ association in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) said that through the notification, Pemra has imposed a blanket ban on the live reporting of statements in open court by the various actors of the justice system: judges, lawyers, parties, and witnesses.

“By imposing a blackout on court proceedings without even consulting the judiciary, Pemra is effectively committing an assault on the independence of the judiciary, in addition to violating the public’s right of access to information, journalists’ freedom of speech and litigants’ right to a fair trial.”

Last but not least, the notifications, which sound a death knell for the profession of courtroom journalism, have jeopardised the right to livelihood of the members of the petitioners’ organisations and amount to a violation of their rights under Article 18 of the Constitution, read the petition.

Seeking interim relief, the petition prayed to the IHC to suspend the “operation” of the Pemra notification.

Similar petitions were filed in the Sukkur bench of the Sindh High Court (SHC) and the Lahore High Court (LHC).

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has filed a petition in the SHC and nominated the federal government, Pemra and the information secretary as the respondents.

However, the petition filed in the IHC named the Pemra chairman and information secretary as respondents.