As the Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Thursday said the “court cannot grant relief to an absconder” while hearing a petition challenging Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (Pemra) order to ban speeches, interviews and public addresses by proclaimed offenders, there is a debate going in Pakistan about the role of journalists who filed the petition.
Najam Sethi, Ziauddin, Nasim Zehra, Asma Sherazi, Gharida Faruqi, Munazie Jehangir, Saleem Safi and a few others have filed a petition in IHC to allow speeches of Nawaz Sharif on TV. My question, are journalists supposed to file such petitions?
— Adeel Raja (@adeelraja) November 18, 2020
The petition was filed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and 15 renowned journalists, anchorpersons and media analysts. The order came after PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s speech was broadcast live by the electronic media while he was addressing a multi-parties conference via video link from London in October.
“[This is] a test for the entire judicial system. You want that relief be granted to all absconding suspects?” the CJ questioned and added: “Granting relief to an absconding suspect is not in the public interest.”
“Your appeal would grant relief to all absconding suspects which the court does not want to give,” the judge said and told the counsel to prepare arguments to convince the court to take up the petition for further hearing.
The case was adjourned until December 16.
PEMRA issued an order
The regulatory body, in a statement, prohibited the broadcasting of content including commentary, opinions or suggestions about the potential fate of sub-judice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court and a tribunal in compliance with the order passed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
“If the licensee fails to comply with the aforementioned directives, the authority shall take action under Section 29 and 30 of PEMRA Ordinance which may result in the imposition of fine and suspension/revocation of licence,” it added.
Sharif had left for London late last year after securing bail for medical treatment in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case and the Al Azizia reference.
The Supreme Court, on July 28, 2017, had disqualified Nawaz in the Panama Papers case and ordered the NAB to file separate cases which were respectively called Avenfiled, Al-Azizia and Flagship references.
Journalists distance from the petition?
Senior journalists Zahid Hussain and Naseem Zehra announced that they were withdrawing from the application, saying that a petition for media freedom “can’t be narrowly focused on just one issue”.
“I was told [the petition] was being filed for media freedom — instead it’s about rights of an absconder regarding Article 19,” Zehra said in a tweet.
In another tweet, she said: “A media freedom petition can’t be narrowly focused on just one issue — instead it must cover dozens of examples of government/establishment muzzling media freedom which includes journalist nabbing and channel banning too.”
Quoting Zehra’s tweet, columnist Hussain said he agreed with her point of view and announced his withdrawal from the application. He added, however, that he “fully support(ed) freedom of expression for everyone”.
— zahid Hussain (@hidhussain) November 19, 2020
Journalist and anchorperson Asma Sherazi said that she “gave [her] consent” to the petition “based on the principal (sic) of freedom of expression”
My view is clear that this matter should be looked at with reference to fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution 19A. So the petition in the current form needs to be improved & should address clearly the core principal of freedom of speech regardless of individuals. 2/2
— Asma Shirazi (@asmashirazi) November 19, 2020
“But the petition in the form it is presented in the court is not what I agreed to nor I want this matter to be viewed from a specific person’s point of view,” she said in a tweet.
PML-N’s journalists deliberately signed the petition?
However, Adeel Raja, a journalist and political commentator, shared a video clipped where Dr. Musadik Malik of PML-N was telling Maria Memon, another prominent journalist, in her show on ARY News that some journalists were planning to file a petition against the PEMRA’s order.
نون لیگی سنیٹر نے اکتوبر میں ہی بتا دیا تھا کہ کچھ صحافی نواز شریف کی تقریر کی بحالی کے لیے عدالت جائیں گے۔۔ سب پلان بنا کر نجم سیٹھی کے زریعے عدالت میں درخواست دی گئی pic.twitter.com/zYxOhd5U01
— Adeel Raja (@adeelraja) November 19, 2020
Shahbaz Gill, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Political Communication, also questioned the credibility of the journalist who signed this petition and asked if “the journalists had signed it without even going through it”.
یہ کون لوگ ہیں جو بغیر پڑھے عدالتوں میں پیٹیشن کرتے جا رہے ہیں۔ آپ نے آصل صحافیوں اور صحافت کا بھی نقصان کیا ہے۔ آپکی وضاحت بے وزن اور بے منطق ہے۔ آپ نے ن لیگ کے صحافتی ونگ کو جوائن کر رکھا ہے جو آج کھل کر سامنے آگیا ہے۔ pic.twitter.com/SZQQYLTogi
— Dr. Shahbaz GiLL (@SHABAZGIL) November 19, 2020
Dr. Gill maintained that “these journalists have also damaged the credibility of real journalists”.