LHC suspends ban on airing of Imran’s speeches

LAHORE (Agencies): The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday suspended the ban imposed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on broadcasting live or recorded speeches of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan on satellite TV channels.

Justice Shams Mehmood Mirza presided over the petition filed by the former premier challenging PEMRA’s ban and announced the reserved verdict. He also proposed the formation of a full bench to hear the case. The prohibition order stated that Imran was “levelling baseless allegations and spreading hate speech through his provocative statements against state institutions and officers which is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order and is likely to disturb public peace and tranquillity”.

PEMRA had said the airing of hateful, slanderous and unwarranted statements against state institutions is “in sheer violation of Article 19 of the Constitution and a judgment of the Supreme Court”. It has been observed that such content was telecasted by TV channels without effective utilisation of time-delay mechanism in violation of provisions of PEMRA laws as well as judgments of the apex courts, the media regulator added.

Challenging the order, Imran had filed a petition with the LHC through barrister Muhammed Ahmed Pansota, contending that in the judgment reported as “Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi Vs PEMRA”, then chief justice of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) Athar Minallah had declared a similar PEMRA prohibition order as “ultra vires the Ordinance” (over-stretching itself beyond the powers conferred upon it) on similar grounds. Imran’s counsel had stated in the petition that PEMRA has issued the impugned order in excess of the jurisdiction vested in it and without having regard to the constitutional rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.

Justice Shahid Bilal Hassan had on Wednesday recused himself from hearing the case and sent the case file to the LHC chief justice, requesting to fix it to another bench. As proceedings commenced, Imran’s counsel argued that PEMRA on March 5, 2023, issued an impugned order, arguing that the regulatory body’s allegations were untrue.

“How can the ban could be imposed on a leader’s speeches,” the judge questioned adding that such a ban “is against freedom of speech”. Meanwhile, the law officer told the court that this matter does not fall under this court’s jurisdiction. This matter is to be heard by the full bench, the law officer further argued. Imran’s counsel on the other hand maintained that the ban is a violation of the freedom of speech. He requested the court to set aside the impunged order.