SC to name commission on 15th in media accountability issue


The Supreme Court on Thursday said it would announce on January 15 the composition of a commission along with its terms of reference (ToR) over the media accountability issue.
A two-judge bench of Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain passed the order after hearing contentions of parties in the case that had held a meeting yesterday to evolve consensus over terms of reference of a commission under the chairmanship of Islamabad High Court Bar Association President Syed Nayyab Hassan Gardezi.
The bench said in its order that they would make an announcement after considering of the proposals submitted before it. During the course of proceedings, the bench hinted that the commission might comprise Justice (r) Nasir Aslam Zahid and former minister for information Javed Jabbar.
The parties also floated names of Justice (r) Shakirullah Jan, Justice (r) Khalilur Rehman Ramday, Justice (r) Javed Iqbal and Justice (r) Chaudhry Ejaz, all former judges of the Supreme Court.
Over the suggestion of appointing Justice (r) Ramday as the head of the commission, Yaseen Azad, counsel for Midas, objected and said since his client had been engaged in litigation with the government of Punjab, therefore, it would not be proper to appoint a former judge from the same province in the commission. The bench agreed to his stance and suggested other names, making it clear that the tentative findings of the commission would come up before the bench for ultimate decision.
Earlier, the bench rejected a request by Zulfikar Ahmed Malooka, counsel for the Ministry of Information, when he opposed the formation of the commission. The counsel contended that there existed PEMRA laws, besides Pakistan Press Council, to oversee media contents’ regulations and feared that setting up such a commission would be like creation of a parallel body.
Justice Jawwad S Khawaja observed that PEMRA was tasked with some contents of regulations that was its onerous duty. Dil Muhammad Alizai, deputy attorney general, also objected to setting up the commission, saying the required mechanism was provided in the relevant PEMRA laws.
Justice Khawaja said such an objection was not sustainable as PEMRA was not a statutory body, moreover, it had been working without its chairman.
Alizai cited a decision of the court over appointment of the Islamabad High Court judges and said the void could be protected through de facto doctrine.
Justice Khilji Arif Hussain told him that in the absence of chief justice of Pakistan, the Judicial Commission could not take decisions, the same principle was applicable to PEMRA.
Justice Khawaja said such objections were outright rejected as the stance was contrary to Section 6 of the PEMRA Act. He said they had not questioned the actions taken by PEMRA in two-and-a-half years that it worked without its permanent chief.
The counsel for PEMRA also admitted that there was no provision in the act that provided functioning of an acting chairman. Justice Khawaja directed him to also submit details whether Dr Jabbar had been withdrawing perks and privileges of permanent office of the PEMRA chairman. Justice Khilji Arif Hussain said the objective of all sides was to protect the rights of public under Article 19 and uninterrupted flow of information, especially in view of upcoming general elections.
Justice Khawaja also stopped Absar Alam, a journalist, when he claimed that PTV and Radio Pakistan were wasting taxpayers’ money.
The judge said the bench was not inclined to hear such arguments and they were apprised by the counsel for the ministry that these organisations were not profitable entities and they had understood his arguments. He also expressed his displeasure with contentions of Asad Kharral, a correspondent of daily Express Tribune, that appointment of chairman Pakistan Press Council was not made in accordance with relevant laws. The judge said that they would not go into the details. “If you have any grievance, then approach high court with a petition,” he added.