ANI Photo | Pakistan: Petitions filed in high courts against media watchdog’s decision to prohibit court coverage

Three separate petitions were filed in Sindh, Lahore, and Islamabad high courts challenging the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (Pemra) notification banning TV channels from news of court proceedings, Pakistan-based Geo News reported.
In a notification released on May 21, the PEMRA ordered all satellite news channel licensees not to carry any content, including commentary, opinions, or suggestions about the potential fate of such subjudice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court.
“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 ordered to ensure strict compliance to the Pemra laws in accordance with the judgement of the Supreme Court “in Suo Moto Case No. 28 of 2018 (reported as 2019 PLD SC 1) in letter and spirit,” according to Geo News report.
The media watchdog warned of legal action in case of any breach of order. The court’s reporters’ association filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), The petitioner said that Pemra, through the notification, 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,” the petition read.
The petition stated further that the notifications, which sound like 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, the report noted.
The petitioner sought interim relief and requested the IHC to suspend the ‘operation’ of Pemra notification. Similar petitions were registered in the Sukkur bench of the Sindh High Court (SHC) and the Lahore High Court (LHC), Geo News reported.
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has filed a petition in the SHC. In the petition, PFUJ has nominated the federal government, Pemra and the information secretary as the respondents. However, the petition registered in the Islamabad High Court named the Pemra chairman and information secretary as respondents.
Earlier this month, media bodies voiced concerns over the state of free media in Pakistan, with a focus particularly on mainstream media and social media restrictions during election days, Pakistan-based Dawn reported.
The Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) has committed to continue the constitutional and legal struggle for freedom of expression in Pakistan and face unfavourable circumstances head-on.
In a statement, AEMEND said that journalists and media outlets in Pakistan face severe challenges, as state and non-state actors have been placing restrictions on television programmes, shutting down broadcasts, pressing for the termination of journalists, creating unnecessary pressures, and making illegal demands.
AEMEND said, “Such tactics are increasing by the day,” adding, “Character assassination of journalists, especially women journalists, is part of this campaign, and political party workers are also part of such malicious campaigns,” according to Dawn report. It said these tactics are aimed to suppress journalists and restrict freedom of expression.
AEMEND said further illegal restrictions on social media, sending notices to journalists and other institutions, shutting down mobile phone and internet services on important occasions, restricting the coverage of targeted political and non-political activities and the issuance of illegal notices by PEMRA are actions taken to deprive people of their right to information, which it stressed is against the spirit of democratic societies.
In its South Asia Press Freedom Report, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said that four journalists were murdered and women journalists in Pakistan faced harassment online and offline.

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