“Any news or discussions in programmes shall not be aired which are likely to jeopardize ongoing inquiries, investigations or trials.’
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday issued some important directives to Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to regulate ‘media trial’ in sub-judice matters.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar said that any discussion on a matter which is sub-judice may be aired, but only to the extent that it is to provide information to the public which is objective in nature and not subjective, and no content, including commentary, opinions or suggestions about the potential fate of such sub-judice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court, tribunal, etc., shall be aired.
Suo motu proceedings were initiated by the court against ARY News anchor Arshad Sharif for his comments in a talk show ‘Power Play’, which were discussing court proceedings regarding the inquiry by FIA against former President Asif Ali Zardari.
Drawing assumptions, inferences and conclusions from evidence or the documents filed in a case and stepping into the shoes of a judge on broadcasted programmes may not only convict the accused in the eyes of the public regardless of whether he is ultimately exonerated by a Court, but certain comments or opinions may be voiced which could potentially instill bias and prejudice in the minds of the judges, particularly to those who are dealing with the sub judice matter, thereby violating the fundamental rights under Articles 4 and 10A of the Constitution of the persons involved in such matter, the bench observed.
The court added that where the fate of sub-judice matters is being decided on public forums, not only the minds of the public are being influenced, but also potentially the minds of the judges seized of the sub-judice matter, and lawyers and investigators, etc. involved in such matter, this would obviously tend to prejudice the sub-judice matter.
The court also observed that law in India regarding protection of the right to fair trial and protection from prejudicial comments with regards to sub-judice matters, in some ways, is similar to the law in Pakistan. The bench also quoted judgments of Indian Supreme Court and some high courts in this regard.
Particularly referring to strong observations made against ‘media trial’ by the Supreme Court of India in R. K. Anand Vs. Registrar, Delhi High Court, the bench said: “While we may not share the strong views in the above quoted paragraph entirely, it is not uncommon for the media to sensationalize issues of public importance and deduce guilt before any substantial finding has been recorded regarding the person undergoing trial/investigation/inquiry, and where this results in the mere risk of a substantial danger of the judges seized of the matter no longer remaining impartial, the right to fair trial of the person facing trial/investigation is irreparably lost.”
The court issued these directives to Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA):
The court also accepted the unconditional and unqualified apology tendered by the news anchor and warned him to be ‘extremely careful in the future’.
Read the Judgment Here