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Pakistani court seeks to impose restrictions on live TV coverage, journalists oppose curbs on media

People watch news on TV in a traditional tea shop in Lahore, 10 May 2013
People watch news on TV in a traditional tea shop in Lahore, 10 May 2013

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

UPDATE from PPF: Case against journalists withdrawn under media pressure (2 September 2013)

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on August 23, 2013 directed the government to submit a comprehensive report on a procedure for controlling the live transmissions of television channels.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had taken suo moto notice of the case regarding a firing incident in Islamabad on August 15, whereby a person opened fire in the heavily policed center of the city after passing the capital's many checkpoints. He was later shot and seriously wounded by police during a 5-hour long dramatic standoff which was shown live on television channels.

The chief justice asked the authorities why all the television stations had broadcast live coverage of the incident and no one contacted the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra). He said steps were not taken to control the media and the Pemra chairman appeared helpless during the entire episode. The chief justice noted that TV channels were bound to abide by directives issued by Pemra.

While appearing before the court, Zulfiqar Malooka, counsel for Pemra, submitted that the Pemra chairman had telephoned the TV channels instructing them to end the live transmission but the stations did not implement the directive. He said that they wanted to take action against the channels for not complying with the order, but Article 19-A of the Constitution posed a hurdle in that regard.

However, the district magistrate stated in court that no contact was made with the media instructing them to stop the live coverage of the incident.

Finally, the chief justice observed that there should not be live coverage of such incidents, which serve to encourage terrorists and spread fear among the masses.

The court adjourned the hearing till September 5.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) President Pervaiz Shaukat and General Secretary Amin Yusuf said during the annual general council meeting of the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) on August 24 that they would oppose any move to put curbs on TV channels. KUJ President G. M. Jamali and General Secretary Fahim Siddiqui condemned the restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court on media. They announced that the KUJ has passed a resolution at a general council meeting which states, "The KUJ will resist attempts by the government, the Pemra or from any other quarter to impose any restraints on electronic media."

Case registered against television channel personnel

In a separate development, on August 26, on the orders of Supreme Court of Pakistan, police registered a case under the Anti-Terrorist Act of 1997 of the constitution against Salman Iqbal, the chief executive of leading television channel ARY News, Owais Tohid, Executive Director, Shahid Hameed Rind, Quetta bureau chief and Sabir Shakir, Islamabad bureau chief of the same organisation. The case is related to the broadcast of a video showing the bombing of a national monument by a separatist group in the restive province of Balochistan.

The provincial information department of Balochistan alleged that ARY News ran objectionable video clips in its current affairs programme on August 13, about the destruction of Quaid Azam Residency in Ziarat district following an attack in June by a separatist group.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had taken notice of the video and asked Pemra to inform him about action taken against the channel.

The PFUJ and The Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ) condemned the series of attacks on press freedom. Pervaiz Shaukat, president of the PFUJ, said all journalists' communities condemned the curbs on media and warned of country-wide protests by the PFUJ.

BUJ and other media networks called for withdrawal of the case. The BUJ decided to stage a demonstration in front of the Balochistan Assembly on August 27. The Karachi Union of Journalists also announced a protest in front of the Karachi Press Club on the same day.

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