SC drops hint to determine limits for state, media institutions

Seeks reports from FIA, IGP in journalists harassment case: Asks whether Pemra rules curtail press freedom

ISLAMABAD: While adjudicating a case relating to journalists harassment on Monday, the top court sought comprehensive reports from Director General Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and inspector general of Islamabad Police pertaining to details of cases and attacks on journalists in a year.

A three-judge bench comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin also summoned Chairman Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to appear before the court in the matter. The bench directed him to submit a response whether Section 27 of the PEMRA Act is inconsistent with the Article 19 of the Constitution.

Earlier, on August 30 had summoned the director general FIA with a complete record of journalists’ harassment case amid summoning the record from Islamabad High Court of all cases relating to journalists’ harassment which were under adjudication before the High Court.

During the course of proceedings, the director general of the FIA apprised the bench that as many as 27 complaints were received against journalists during the last four years. He submitted as many as four FIRs on the grounds of inquiry against journalists were launched, adding that a total of 20 out of 27 complaints were investigated.

To which the bench ordered the director general FIA to submit a comprehensive report of all the described cases during next hearing saying the director general shall inform the court through the report that under which procedure FIRs were registered and how many arrests have been made so far and what are the results? The bench also directed that the report should state how many cases against journalists were pending in the courts.

The bench also asked the director general FIA to inform the court what the justification is to exercise Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) against journalists. Likewise, the bench asked chairman PEMRA what procedure is to take action against broadcasters.

Similarly, the bench directed IG Islamabad to submit details of attacks on journalists in a year as well as inform the court how many accused attacking journalists in a year have been apprehended so far. IG Islamabad has also been directed to submit details of complaints related to harassment of journalists. During the proceedings, Justice Ijazul Ahsan remarked that the FIA  issued unnecessary notices to journalists under the PECA and arrested journalists.

Addressing the DG FIA Justice Ahsan plainly observed freedom of the press will be regulated under Article 19 of the Constitution saying freedom of the press cannot be regulated by the PECA, adding that the FIA has no power to curtail the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.

A member of the bench, Justice Muneeb Akhtar while addressing the DG FIA observed that the DG FIA, was responsible for every case, where freedom of press is guaranteed constitutionally, adding that the constitution also guarantees personal dignity.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed, “The court will decide the matter in hand by determining guidelines, applicable to journalists and state institutions, what is the definition of press? What is the definition of freedom of expression? What is the definition of opinion? To what extent can an opinion be given? Who will regulate the opinion?” The legal term should not be vague, the judge added,

“Where does the limit of expression begin and where does it end?” He said in remarks that the press should not have unlimited powers saying everyone should respect their constitutional limits.

The bench issued directives to Chairman Pemra, IG Islamabad and DG FIA to appear before the court in person during next hearing with required reports. Later, the hearing was adjourned sine die.

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