LHC bars PEMRA from taking action against TV anchorpersons


LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday stopped the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) from taking any “adverse action” against anchorpersons who challenged a recent directive issued by the regulatory body, barring television anchors from giving their “opinions” during talk shows, until further orders.

On Sunday, the electronic media watchdog issued a notification directing the anchors hosting regular shows “not to appear as experts” in talk shows in their own or other channels. Media houses had also been advised to select the guests in talk shows “with the utmost care and keeping in view of their knowledge and expertise in a particular subject”.

“Participants/invitees should be selected with due care having credibility as fair and unbiased analysts with requisite knowledge/expertise on the subject matter. As per Pemra code of conduct, the role of anchors is to moderate the programmes in an objective, unbiased and impartial manner, excluding themselves from their personal opinions, biases and judgements on any issue. Therefore, anchors hosting exclusive regular shows should not appear in talk shows whether own or other channels as subject matter expert,” the notification had read.

Following the notification, 11 television anchorpersons filed a petition against PEMRA directives in the high court, saying that the directive violated Article 19 of the Constitution, which grants every Pakistan citizen the “right to freedom of speech”.

The order was also in contradiction with Article 9 of the Constitution, which dictates that “no person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with the law”, the anchorpersons said. They urged the court to suspend the notification until the issuance of a final verdict in the case.

During the hearing today, PEMRA’s lawyer said that the regulatory body has already issued a clarification on the matter.

He regretted those television anchors “talked about a deal [while] discussing a sub judice case” and added that the LHC did not have the jurisdiction to the hear the case as it can only be heard by the Islamabad High Court.

The high court accepted the petition for hearing and ordered all respondents, including Pemra and the ministry of information, to submit written responses. The hearing was adjourned indefinitely.

The PEMRA notification had also attracted the wrath of the IHC, which issued a contempt of court notice to the regulatory body’s Chairman Saleem Baig a day earlier for using the court’s name to issue strict guidelines to media houses and anchorpersons.

PEMRA, in the notification, had referred to an order passed by the IHC on Oct 26, in the matter of Shahbaz Sharif versus the state, and said that the court had taken cognisance of various speculative TV talk shows whereby anchorpersons, in violation of the code of conduct, tried to malign the judiciary and its decision with mala fide intention.

“The court has sought a report of Pemra’s actions on such violations with a reprimand,” the notification had added.

Meanwhile, PEMRA urged all satellite TV licensees to comply with a Lahore accountability court order against programmes “maligning the courts without any basis”.

According to a notification, an order issued by the accountability court on Oct 25, stated that “without legal acumen” politicians and media personnel were involved in maligning the court on television “without any basis”, adding that they “pass comments maligning the courts for their political motives”.

“Therefore, the chairman Pemra is directed to control these kinds of programmes maligning the courts without any basis,” the court said, adding that in case of violation of the order, proceedings would be initiated under Section 16-B of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999.”

In a notification issued on Wednesday, all satellite TV licensees were directed to “comply with the court order”.

“In case of any violation, appropriate legal action under relevant provisions of Pemra laws may be initiated,” the media regulatory body added.