LAHORE - The Lahore High Court on Monday sought detailed report on steps taken by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to control broadcasting of alleged anti-judiciary speeches by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and other leaders of the PML-N on television channels.

Full bench, comprising Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Masood Jahangir, is the forth bench which held its maiden hearing on the petitions seeking ban on broadcasting of alleged contemptuous speeches.

Hot words were exchanged between Sharif’s counsel AK Dogar and Justice Naqvi when the former objected to the inclusion of Justice Mahmood in the bench. Dogar said Justice Mahmood had been serving as general secretary of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf’s lawyer forum in the past.

Taking his objection seriously, Justice Naqvi, head of the bench, observed, “After elevation, a judge has no relation or connection with any group or party”. 

Justice Naqvi did not take kindly to the lawyer’s attempt at repartee, reminding him that he was standing in the courtroom. “Mr Dogar, this is a court; decisions here will be taken according to the law rather than your wishes.”

“What is this what you have started? Are these legal arguments?” Justice Naqvi reminded AK Dogar. Justice Naqvi barred AK Dogar from raising unnecessary objections and asked him to advance legal arguments.  “It is my right to raise objections,” said Dogar said. Justice Naqvi remarked that the notices had not been served as yet, so how the arguments could be advanced.

Justice Atir Mahmood said, “You (Dogar) know better the respect of the court, Dogar Sb your associates are interfering”. Dogar insisted that his client (Nawaz Sharif) had been served notices. Justice Naqvi remarked that no notice had been served on his clients as per the application lying in front of the bench.

“You know everything while sitting at home,” Justice Naqvi addressed the lawyer. He asked the lawyer to advance arguments after the notices have been served.   “It is as if you are appearing first time in the court, you know how much you are respected, so keep your respect intact,” the judge further remarked.    “You remained prime minister for three times and you should be humble and down to earth,” Justice Naqvi addressed Mr. Dogar, the counsel of Nawaz Sharif.

The judge also rejected the impression that the judges were acting with an agenda, saying that decisions are given in accordance with the law.

Advocate Azhar Siddique, the counsel of the petitioners Munir Ahmad and Amna Malik, said that Pemra failed to fulfill its duty to control broadcasting of contemptuous speeches. At this, Justice Naqvi asked him if he approached Pemra. He replied that they approached the authority a number of times but no action was taken. According to Pemra rules, he added, he also approached council of complaints and also provided all required material of contemptuous speeches to the authority. However, he added, production of record of the program was not his duty. Pemra completely failed to perform its duties, the counsel said.

The counsel further said that nine months had been passed but no action had been taken on the applications. Justice Jahangir said that should they send his case to the council of complaints. However, Azhar said his case was beyond the limits of the council.

Justice Naqvi asked Pemra Secretary Sohail Asif that why the broadcasting of contemptuous speeches was not being stopped and asked him that why the acting chairman of the authority did not appear before the court. Asif said he was in the head office. The bench directed Pemra’s acting chairman to appear in person on the next hearing date. The bench also directed the authority to come up with steps taken to control broadcasting of contemptuous speeches and put off further hearing until April 11.

It was the fourth bench as earlier a full bench headed by Justice Sayyed Mazhar Ali Akbar Naqvi and comprising Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Shahid Jamil Khan had to take up the petitions on Friday but Justice Shahid Jamil Khan refused to hear the case for personal reasons.

However, LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Yawar Ali constituted a new bench for the fourth time. The CJ replaced Justice Khan with Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Masood Jahangir. Before that, two full benches stood dissolved; first time when a new roster was issued for the sitting of the judges at different benches of the Lahore High Court and the second time when Justice Shahid Mubeen recused himself from hearing of the case.

Amna Malik, Munir Ahmad and other citizens had moved the petitions against former prime minister Nawz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and other leaders of the PML-N over their alleged anti-judiciary speeches. The petitioners also alleged that Pemra was not fulfilling its obligations and contemptuous remarks against judges of the superior courts and the judiciary were being broadcast on TVs. They said Pemra had intentionally been allowing broadcasting of such material on TVs. Such acts of Pemra was tantamount to contempt of court and deserved a strict action, they said.

The petitioners said the Pemra failed to act as an independent regulator rather became a subordinate body of the government. They argued that Pemra officials needed to realise that they were not on the PML-N’s payroll and had to protect citizens of Pakistan and the institutions in every regard.

They prayed the court to order Pemra to bar media houses from airing anything against laws and offensive to the state institutions.