Pakistan’s Supreme Court withdraws media gag order

May 12th, 2008 - 5:07 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, May 12 (IANS) Minutes after it issued an order banning coverage of the vexed issue of restoration of judges, Pakistan’s Supreme Court Monday toned down its directive following protests by journalists and lawyers. The court first ordered the electronic media not to air programmes related to the judiciary but later said that only those programmes that generate controversy will not be aired or telecast.

Almost all TV channels since the formation of the new government in March have been focusing on the issue of restoration of about 60 judges of superior courts who were sacked by President Pervez Musharraf Nov 3 last year after he imposed emergency.

Some judges including several of the Supreme Court and high courts took oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) showing allegiance to Musharraf. However, those who refused to do so, including former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, were sent home and some were put under house arrest.

On Monday, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court was hearing a case against GEO television for airing a report that three judges of the apex court held a meeting with Interior Secretary Kamal Ali Shah.

Taking suo moto notice of the report, the court summoned GEO bureau chief Absar Alam.

Alam told the court that journalists were free to report provided they have concrete evidence.

The TV channel on May 8 aired the report with names of the three judges who it said met the interior secretary but the apex court denied the report in a statement.

“We cannot allow media to do whatever they…(want to). There has to be some way to it,” said one of the judges and asked a representative of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) if there was any code of conduct for journalists.

The PEMRA representative told the court that there was a regulatory framework but media organisations were not following it.

Justice Nawaz Khokar, who heads the bench, said that even under article 19 of the constitution, media cannot operate without checks and balances.

“They (mediapersons) have to be very very responsible,” he remarked and adjourned the hearing till May 22.

Justice Nawaz Abbasi said that action could be taken under article 204 of the constitution.

The Supreme Court also ordered presenting all records of TV channels and newspapers in after Nov 3.

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