Home Global Village Judicial control on television content questions PEMRA’s efficacy

Judicial control on television content questions PEMRA’s efficacy

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The superior judiciary’s hold on the content being broadcasted by the national media is on the rise – with judgments and rulings passed every other day. Recently, the Supreme Court followed by the Islamabad High Court gave clear directions to News and Entertainment channels regarding what they have to broadcast and what not to. The control of judges on the content is not against the laws, however, there is a dedicated body named Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) for the said purpose; which is almost failing to oversee the media in current times.

In fresh directives, the Islamabad High Court has instructed the television channels that reality shows would not be allowed to go on-air, in the month of Ramazan. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court also took a strong exception to the content broadcasted on national media in the sacred month and asked PEMRA about its performance and guidelines issued to the television channels.

In a recent hearing, the said judge also termed Azaan (call to prayer) as the biggest breaking news, decrying that the TV channels were not airing it. Justice Siddiqui also said that even the state-owned Pakistan Television was not broadcasting Azaan, however, he was factually wrong regarding his observation of PTV’s content as the said channel now airs Azaan, five times a day.

The single bench of Islamabad High Court also named a particular televangelist, now a leader of the emerging party, to have started a ‘circus’ during Ramazan, which was followed by others. The court also hinted that the anchors who disrespect the holy month can face a lifetime ban as well. This is not the first time Justice Siddiqui has issued clear worded guidelines to TV channels.

The Supreme Court followed by the Islamabad High Court gave clear directions to News and Entertainment channels regarding what they have to broadcast and what not to.

For the recent Valentine’s Day, he ordered to prohibit the celebrations in public places and even on television channels. Surprisingly, just two weeks after the directives, Justice Siddiqui also sought replies from two of the seasoned journalists for having ridiculed his earlier order.

Read more: CJP’s intervention for independent PEMRA is a ray of hope for…

Islamabad High Court and more specifically, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui has been quite active in directing the media regulator in 2017 as well. While hearing the case regarding ‘blasphemous’ content on social media, he directed to form a committee to oversee the content broadcasted on national media. Islamabad High Court is not the only wing of the superior judiciary to have taken part in directing the media watchdog about what it should air. Recently, the Lahore High Court directed PEMRA to ban airing of anti-judiciary speeches on national media.

A full bench headed by Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi, comprising of Justice Masood Jahangir and Justice Atir Mahmoud had passed directives, which were misinterpreted by leading media franchises, who thought the embargo was only for Sharif family and members of ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz. A day after the judgment, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar took a suo motu notice and clarified that no ban was placed on former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court also took a strong exception to the content broadcasted on national media in the sacred month and asked PEMRA about its performance and guidelines issued to the television channels.

The case of Dr. Shahid Masood also confirms the enhanced control of judiciary on media. The renowned anchor had asked the top judge to look into the pornographic ring, claiming its widespread presence in Pakistan. Shahid made the shocking revelations after a seven-year-old girl, Zainab was raped and murdered in Kasur, a city of Punjab. After successive hearings by the top judge, it was found that there was no truth to the observations shared by Dr. Shahid Masood. The NewsOne anchor was banned for three months, however, PEMRA did not take any suitable action prior to enforcement of the ban by the superior judiciary.

Read more: Why is PEMRA not playing its actual role?

Keeping the above cases in mind, it becomes necessary to question what the role of PEMRA is when it is only following in the footsteps of the judiciary. Absar Alam, the former chairman of the body, was also shown the door not by any disciplinary committee but by the Lahore High Court in December last year; since his ouster, the body has remained headless.

Even recently, the Chief Justice reconstituted a committee to appoint a permanent chairman of the regulator, removing the name of Marriyam Aurangzeb, the State Minister for Information. During the tenure of Absar Alam, the body was effective to a larger extent, however, its role later became questionable due to a spree of controversial orders – most noticeably the complete closure of transmission on Faizabad sit-in.

The judicial activism, concerning electronic media, is not contrary to the rules and regulations, however, it raises serious questions about the effectiveness of PEMRA, which is being run on tax payer’s money.


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