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Media outlets harassed; Supreme Court issues order restricting coverage of judges

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

IFJ Concerned by Pakistan Court Order Restraining Media Coverage

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), in expressing concern at the Pakistan Supreme Court's order on May 12 to restrain the media from reporting anything that may be deemed "derogatory" of judges.

The order was an over-zealous protection of judicial privileges and provided wide scope for arbitrary interpretation, the IFJ said.

According to the PFUJ, the GEO News TV channel and the Daily Jang, a newspaper belonging to the same media group, put out reports on May 8 of a supposed meeting between Pakistan's Federal Secretary of the Interior and three judges of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice.

The reports were brief and mentioned nothing about the purpose of the supposed meeting. Denials issued by the Supreme Court's protocol department were given appropriate coverage.

Justice Mohammad Nawaz Abbasi, one of the three judges mentioned in the report, issued a notice on May 9 to the chief of GEO's Islamabad bureau and a reporter of the Daily Jang asking them to answer prima facie charges of seeking to "exploit the court" and "scandalise" its judges.

Justice Abbasi ordered the journalists to reveal their sources and said the media should not publish any reports involving a judge without prior clearance by court officials.

At a hearing on May 12, the Supreme Court amended its earlier order in certain respects, after an intervention by representatives of the PFUJ and GEO.

However, GEO and Daily Jang were ordered to produce transcripts of all news items published or broadcast since November 3, 2007, the day a nation-wide state of emergency was declared by the erstwhile military regime of President Pervez Musharraf.

The court asked the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to ensure that the news organisations complied with the order.

"Judicial appointments are a matter of great public interest in Pakistan at the moment," said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park. "To restrain the media from reporting on the judiciary would amount to a serious denial of the public right to know."

The IFJ is concerned at the court's effort to invoke the powers of monitoring and coercion that PEMRA was assigned under Musharraf. This effort is contrary to assurances given by the new civilian government that PEMRA would be stripped of these powers.

The IFJ supports the PFUJ in its determination to fight these restraints. It calls upon Pakistan's Government to dispel firmly the impression that PEMRA, once an agency of censorship in the hands of the military, is now performing the same function under judicial direction.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

For further information on guidelines restricting media coverage of the judicial crisis, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/83247

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