Pemra bar on Fazl presser coverage illegal: PHC

PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court has ruled that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s act of stopping television channels from airing the news conference of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman was illegal and a violation of the Constitution and the Pemra Ordinance, 2002.

A bench consisting of Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and Justice Ahmad Ali ruled that the bar on the media coverage of the JUI-F’s presser violated Article 19 of the Constitution and Section 27 of Pemra Ordinance.

The bench had pronounced on Oct 29 a short order of accepting the petition of lawyer and JUI-F leader Obaidullah Anwar, who had challenged the Pemra’s act of stopping news channels from telecasting Mr Fazl’s news conference through verbal orders and requested the court to declare it illegal and unconstitutional.

In the detailed judgment, the bench cited the provisions of Constitution and Pemra Ordinance, 2002, and directed Pemra to ensure that private television channels air the opposition’s activities on a par with the government’s.

The bench observed that if any channel was again told not to cover the JUI-F leader’s news conference, the petitioner could file a contempt petition with the court.

Quoting Section 27 of the Pemra Ordinance, the bench ruled that the said provision clearly revealed that the authority should by order in writing prohibit any broadcast media or distribution service operator.

It, however, said records of the case would reveal that there was existed no such orders in writing and instead, the Pemra verbally instructed all TV channels not to telecast the news conference of the JUI-F leader, which was a clear violation of the law.

The bench observed that Article 19 of the Constitution provided every citizen to have the right to freedom of speech and expression, etc.

It referred to a Supreme Court judgement in a case of Dr Shahid Masood and others (2010 SCMR 1849) wherein it was declared that the role attached to electronic media stemmed out of the fundamental rights of freedom of speech, expression and of press as guaranteed by article 19 of the Constitution.

In the same judgment, the court had ruled that equally important, if not more, was the right of every citizen to have access to information in all matters of public importance as guaranteed by provisions of Article 19-A of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, the court also released the detailed judgment in two other petitions, one filed by Obaidullah Anwar and other by Azmat Ali Mohmand against the placing of shipping containers on roads for blocking the rallies bound for Islamabad to join the JUI-F’s Azadi March.

The bench had accepted the two petitions on Oct 29.

In the detailed order, the bench ruled that the act of the respondents, including provincial government, to place containers to block roads to Islamabad was illegal and without lawful authority.

It asked the respondents to open the roads immediately by removing containers till the vicinity of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

However, the bench directed the petitioners to furnish a bond to the high court’s additional registrar (judicial) to declare that marchers will remain peaceful and will not damage the public and government property.

It referred to articles 15, 16 and 17 of the Constitution observing that those provisions guaranteed freedom of movement, the peaceful assembling of people and the formation of association or union.