The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on Monday directed all private TV channels to halt the broadcast of live content and implement a “maximum time delay mechanism” in accordance with the regulator’s Code of Conduct and a relevant ruling of the Supreme Court.
Referring to a ruling of the Islamabad High Court, the regulator said it had been directed to ensure proper utilization of a delay mechanism for live broadcasts. “Whereas it has observed that satellite TV channels, while giving coverage to public gatherings and speeches, made thereof telecast unwarranted/objectionable views without any editorial control and utilizing effective time delay mechanism, which could expunge undesirable views/statements which malign or denigrate state institutions,” it said, noting that while the Constitution granted certain rights under Article 18 (freedom of trade) and Article 19 (freedom of speech), these were subject to “reasonable” restrictions, as held by the Supreme Court in various rulings.
“Airing of hateful, slanderous and unwarranted statements against state institutions are in sheer violation of Article 19 of the Constitution,” it said, as well as judgments of the Supreme Court, Lahore High Court, PEMRA Ordinance and the PEMRA Code of Conduct. “Therefore … while directing all the licensees (News and Current Affairs and Regional) to implement order of the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan passed in suo moto case No. 28 of 2018, dated Sept. 12, 2018 … the authority therefore has decided the following:
- Maximum time delay mechanism for broadcasting live content as enshrined under clause 5 of the Code of Conduct 2015 is deployed, immediately. Details of the equipment installed by the licensee must be shared with the Authority along with technical specifications mentioning maximum time for which signal of live program/content is delayed.
- Editorial board/in-house monitoring committee be constituted immediately. Detailed information and SOPs chalked out for discharging their duties as enshrined under clause 17 of the Code of Conduct 2015.”
Directing all channels to stop the live telecast of content/programs, it said all licensees must implement the time-delay mechanism and get it authenticated by PEMRA with the issuance of a relevant certificate. “In case of any violation observed, legal action under Sections 27, 29, 30, and 33 of PEMRA Ordinance 2002, as amended by PEMRA (Amendment) Act, 2007, shall be initiated as per PEMRA laws,” it warned.
The media regulator also recalled it had repeatedly directed all licensees to stop airing any content (either recorded or broadcast live) against state institutions. Noting violations were continuing despite repeated warnings, it cited a 2018 ruling of the Supreme Court to support its order:
“There remains no ambiguity in our minds with regards to the laxity of the licensees in ensuring compliance with the Code of Conduct and of PEMRA as a regulatory authority in penalizing licensees on account of any violations of the Code of Conduct. If voluntary violations of the Code of Conduct or even negligence by the licensees to ensure adherence thereto is not penalized by PEMRA, the Code of Conduct will be reduced to a mere paper tiger and be rendered absolutely redundant. We, therefore, issue a writ of mandamus to PEMRA to ensure that the following parameters laid down in the law and the Code of Conduct are adhered to in letter and spirit and that no violations thereof shall be tolerated by PEMRA:
- The Code of Conduct ensures that the freedom of speech and the right to information (Articles 19 and 19A of the Constitution) are protected, and at the same time provides that the discussion of sub-judice matters must be conducted in a manner which does not negatively affect another person’s fundamental right to be dealt with in accordance with the law (Article 4 of the Constitution) and the right to a fair trial and due process (Article 10A of the Constitution).
- All licensees should be sent a notice/reminder of their basic ethics and objectives, standards and obligations under the Code of Conduct, particularly Clause 4(10) thereof, in that, editorial oversight should be observed prior to the airing of all programs and any program, the subject or content of which is found or deemed to be in violation of the Code of Conduct in its true letter and spirit, should not be aired by the licensee;
- 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;
- While content based on extracts of court proceedings, police records and other sources are allowed to the extent that they are fair and correct, any news or discussions in programs shall not be aired which are likely to jeopardize ongoing inquiries, investigations or trials;
- In compliance with Clause 5 of the Code of Conduct, all licensees should strictly ensure that an effective delaying mechanism is in place for broadcasting live programs to ensure stern compliance with the Code of Conduct and Articles 4, 10A and 204 of the Constitution;
- In compliance with Clause 17 of the Code of Conduct, an impartial and competent in-house Monitoring Committee shall be formed by each licensee, with intimation to PEMRA which shall be duty bound to ensure compliance with the Code of Conduct;
- With regards to the Monitoring Committee, we direct that licensees include (for each of its meetings) at least one practicing lawyer of at least 5 years or above practice, with an adequate understanding of the law to advise the licensee regarding any potential violations of the Code of Conduct by programs to be aired in the future;
- In compliance with Clause 20 of the Code of Conduct, each licensee shall be required to hold regular training of its officers, employees, staff, anchors, representatives etc. with regards to ensure compliance with the Code of Conduct with the schedule and agenda of these regular training to be intimated to PEMRA through the Monitoring Committee;
- If any licensee is found to have violated or failed to observe the Code of Conduct in its true letter and spirit, particularly Clause 4 of thereof, and/or Articles 4, 10A and 204 of the Constitution, strict and immediate action should be taken against such a licensee in accordance with Section 33 of the Ordinance. The Supreme Court or any High Court retains the power to take cognizance of the matter and shall exercise its powers under Article 204 ibid where such Court is of the opinion that it is appropriate in the facts and circumstances of the case for it to do so…”