Restricting TV channels is a violation of Article 19, says chief justice

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar on Wednesday said that restricting TV channels from working freely was a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution.

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by the chief justice, resumed hearing of the media commission case on Wednesday. During the hearing, the chief justice directed Geo News’ counsel to file a petition over their channels’ closure.

Senior anchorperson Hamid Mir requested the chief justice to get Geo TV channels restored across the country, noting that the channels’ transmission could not be restored despite directives by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).

At this, Justice Aijaz-ul-Ahsan said it is quite an old issue and concerns cable operators.

The chief justice remarked that the PEMRA has ordered restoration of channel and inquired the anchorperson what role could they play in this regard.

He said that “if the law allows a channel to operate, then no one can get it off air except the Almighty.” Justice Nisar said that restricting a TV channel from functioning freely is a violation of the Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan.

Geo News’ counsel, Jam Asif, informed the court that a miscellaneous petition has been filed over the issue. At this, the chief justice said they would not hear a miscellaneous petition and a new petition be filed instead.

Mir said the government has backtracked from stance of an independent PEMRA. Noting that the government put channels off air during a sit-in, the anchorperson urged for declaring of PEMRA Act’s sections 5 and 6 null and void.

The chief justice responded saying that the petitioner seeks strengthening of the PEMRA, adding that no section can be nullified without completely reviewing PEMRA rules.

Justice Nisar said the matter might have to be sent to the Parliament, however, they would conduct its hearing on daily basis.

He further addressed the additional attorney general saying that the government has control over PEMRA, it should be ended.

“The goal of PEMRA’s establishment would be achieved only through its freedom,” the chief justice said, adding that if needed, they would also review appointment of PEMRA members, but do not want to expose anyone at present.

Meanwhile, the information secretary informed the court that Absar Alam, without approval, gave amendments to parliamentary committees, which were turned down.

The court, while directing the additional attorney general for presenting recommendations on the matter, adjourned the hearing until Thursday.