The International Federation of
Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of
Journalists (PFUJ), in expressing concern at the Pakistan Supreme Court’s order
on May 12 to restrain the media from reporting anything that may be deemed
“derogatory” of judges.
The order was an over-zealous
protection of judicial privileges and provided wide scope for arbitrary
interpretation, the IFJ said.
According to the PFUJ, the GEO
News TV channel and the Daily Jang, a
newspaper belonging to the same media group, put out reports on May 8 of a
supposed meeting between Pakistan’s
Federal Secretary of the Interior and three judges of the Supreme Court,
including the chief justice.
The reports were brief and
mentioned nothing about the purpose of the supposed meeting. Denials issued by
the Supreme Court’s protocol department were given appropriate coverage.
Justice Mohammad Nawaz Abbasi, one
of the three judges mentioned in the report, issued a notice on May 9 to the
chief of GEO’s Islamabad
bureau and a reporter of the Daily Jang asking them to answer prima facie charges of seeking to “exploit the court” and
“scandalise” its judges.
Justice Abbasi ordered the
journalists to reveal their sources and said the media should not publish any
reports involving a judge without prior clearance by court officials.
At a hearing on May 12, the
Supreme Court amended its earlier order in certain respects, after an
intervention by representatives of the PFUJ and GEO.
However, GEO and Daily Jang were ordered to produce
transcripts of all news items published or broadcast since November 3, 2007,
the day a nation-wide state of emergency was declared by the erstwhile military
regime of President Pervez Musharraf.
The court asked the Pakistan
Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to ensure that the news
organisations complied with the order.
“Judicial appointments are a
matter of great public interest in Pakistan at the moment,” said IFJ
Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park. “To restrain the media from reporting on
the judiciary would amount to a serious denial of the public right to know.”
The IFJ is concerned at the
court’s effort to invoke the powers of monitoring and coercion that PEMRA was
assigned under Musharraf. This effort is contrary to assurances given by the
new civilian government that PEMRA would be stripped of these powers.
The IFJ supports the PFUJ in its
determination to fight these restraints. It calls upon Pakistan’s
Government to dispel firmly the impression that PEMRA, once an agency of
censorship in the hands of the military, is now performing the same function
under judicial direction.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents
over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries