October 13th, 2020
By Rehan Piracha
The Lahore High Court has suspended the notification by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) banning the coverage of the motorway gang rape incident, saying that media could report on the proceedings of the case, but was restrained from broadcasting pictures of the victim and the suspects.
A division bench, headed by Chief Justice Qasim Khan, was hearing a petition challenging the PEMRA ban on the coverage of motorway gang rape. On October 2, PEMRA had banned coverage in compliance with an order passed by an anti-terrorism court on an application by a police official investigating the gang-rape case.
Media barred from broadcasting pictures of the victim’s family and suspects
On Tuesday, October 13, Chief Justice Qasim Khan while hearing the petition said the media could report on the proceedings in the case, adding the public cannot be stopped from knowing about the developments in the case under the Right to Information. The chief justice said the right to information could not be banned under the Constitution.
The chief justice, however, barred media outlets from broadcasting pictures of the affected family members and the suspects.
During the hearing, Chief Justice Qasim Khan called state lawyers to the rostrum. The deputy attorney general told the court that the ban was related to the PEMRA. The chief justice said the government could not be selective about the coverage of the motorway gang rape. He called for the production of the record of press conferences by ministers and government advisors broadcast on media channels on the arrest of main suspect Abid Malhi.
The chief justice questioned as to why these press conferences had been broadcast despite the PEMRA ban. He said those times had gone when every sin of the government was forgiven and the opposition was punished for things it hadn’t done. The court issued a notice to PEMRA for its reply and adjourned the hearing of the petition till October 22.
Ban violates freedom of speech and press
In his petition, Advocate Salman Khan Niazi pleaded that the ban was in clear violation of Article 19 of the Constitution, which guaranteed freedom of speech and press.
The petitioner submitted that the only restrictions that can be imposed on freedom of speech must be through any law and that law must itself be reasonable. He said no law permitted the passing of the impugned orders in derogation of the rights of the petitioner and the public at large guaranteed under the Constitution.
The petitioner stated that the trial court directed PEMRA to impose a complete ban on the coverage of the incident, not only on electronic media but also in print media. He pointed out that impugned orders were patently illegal, as PEMRA had no jurisdiction to interfere in the functioning of the print media.