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Petitions Filed Against PEMRA’s Ban on Reporting Sub-Judice Matters in High Courts

Three separate petitions were filed on Thursday in the Lahore and Islamabad high courts challenging a notification from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) that restricts the reporting and airing of content related to sub-judice matters.

Pemra issued the notification on Tuesday, directing television channels to “refrain from airing tickers/headlines with regard to court proceedings and to only report the written orders of the court.” The notification specified that live court proceedings could be reported, but any commentary, opinions, or suggestions about the potential outcomes of sub-judice matters, which might prejudice their determination, were prohibited.

This ban followed strong remarks made by Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) concerning intelligence agencies and government officials during hearings on a case involving a missing Kashmiri poet. Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar criticized the release of such remarks to the public, suggesting that court decisions should be communicated through formal orders to avoid spreading unrest.

In response to the ban, the Press Association of the Supreme Court (PAS) and the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association (IHCJA) issued a joint statement rejecting the Pemra notification. They argued that Pemra lacked the legal authority to prohibit the reporting of court proceedings, citing Articles 19 and 19A of the Constitution, which guarantee freedom of expression and the right to access information. They labeled the notification a “flagrant violation” of the Constitution and demanded its withdrawal, threatening legal action otherwise.

Subsequently, petitions were filed in the Lahore High Court (LHC) and the IHC against the Pemra notification. The LHC petitions, submitted by Advocate Samra Malik and Hafiz Muhammad Zain Ul Abdin through Advocates Azhar Siddique and Khawaja Ahmad Tariq Rahim, called for the notification to be suspended, set aside, and declared illegal. These petitions are scheduled for a hearing on Friday by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh.

The petition in the IHC, filed by PAS and IHCJA, also sought to have the Pemra notification declared illegal and unconstitutional. The plea argued that the impugned notifications could not be considered legitimate orders or decisions of the authority because they did not result from the required deliberation process stipulated by Pemra rules.

The challenge to the Pemra notification underscores the ongoing tension between regulatory authorities and media organizations concerning the limits of reporting on judicial matters, highlighting broader issues of press freedom and the right to information in Pakistan.

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