Pemra’s ban on Neo TV channel penalising entire staff, SC told

ISLAMABAD: A Supreme Court judge on Monday regretted that judges had started avoiding shaking hands with people even in weddings and other functions to make sure that they were not caught in a position where they were shown meeting people related to the ongoing Panama leaks case.

The observation was made by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa against the backdrop of television footage aired by different channels highlighting an alleged private meeting between Justice Amir Hani Muslim and Senator Nehal Hashmi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz regarding the Panama leaks case which is pending before the court.

The airing of the programme led to contempt of court proceedings against a television channel, Din News, in the Supreme Court. The court described it as part of a character assassination campaign to cast aspersions on the conduct of a judge.

On Monday Justice Khosa took up an appeal against the rejection by the Islamabad High Court of a petition filed by Neo Television channel challenging the slapping of a seven-day ban by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra). The ban, which started on Dec 1, will end on Thursday (Dec 8).

The observation came after rights activist Asma Jahangir pleaded before a three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Khosa, that Pemra was penalising the entire channel for the sake of one anchorperson who had run the footage of that meeting.

“Pemra is killing the channel with gunpowder,” observed Ms Jahangir, but Justice Dost Mohammad Khan, a member of the bench, retorted that the wounds of the judiciary had also not been stitched.

The counsel pleaded before the court to undo Pemra’s order so that the channel could restart operations. On its part, Ms Jahangir added, the television channel would tender an unconditional apology.

But the court observed that it would be in the fitness of things if complete record was summoned from Pemra after it noted that the Nov 26 order of suspending the licence of the channel was issued by Pemra’s general manager of operations.

Subsequently the apex court ordered Pemra to come up with the complete record on Wednesday (Dec 7) showing whether any separate meeting of the authority was held the same day after recommendations of the ‘personal hearing committee’ which had suggested suspension of the television’s licence for a week.

The order stipulated that if the authority did meet on Nov 26 soon after recommendations of the personal hearing committee, Pemra should also identify the members who attended that meeting.

“Please do not hang a person for a speech which has not set off any violence,” pleaded Ms Jahangir before the court.

“But it is not fair to abuse someone in good faith,” Justice Khan replied.

However, Ms Jahangir recalled that the same anchor had said many things against her, but it did not bother her. Justice Khosa, however, emphasised that the world over media exercised restraint vis-a-vis the judiciary.

“Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion,” the judge observed, adding that there were many rights like the independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression.

The test of a society lay in whether it was able to strike the right balance between the two, the judge said.


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