ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday declared that not actors, cricketers or models but PhD scholars should talk about religion on TV channels.
Hearing a petition, Justice Siddiqui, heading a single member bench, remarked that to analyse a cricket match, TV channels engage foreign experts but on the sensitive issue of religion, they engage actors, cricketers and models. Advocate Muhammad Waqas Malik filed the petition seeking to stop vulgarity and immorality on the TV channels, particularly during the Ramazan transmission and morning shows. “It’s very strange to note that even Naats are being recited with music,” the judge observed. Justice Siddiqui said channels would not be allowed to promote lottery or gambling during the Ramazan transmissions even for a noble purpose like Hajj/Umra tickets, etc. “Programmes like Neelam Ghar and those looking like some circus show must be stopped.”
The bench issued a nine-page bilingual (English/Urdu) short order, while a detailed order will follow.
The bench put a complete ban on dramas, films and advertisements of foreign origin particularly of Indian origin. “Only 10% foreign content is allowed subject to approval by a committee consisting of secretaries from the ministries of interior, information technology, religious affairs and information with special participation of chairmen Pemra and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
“The committee shall ensure that the contents put on air are not in conflict with the injunctions of Islam, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority-Pemra laws, electronic media code of conduct and judgments of the superior judiciary,’ the judge remarked.
In compliance with a previous order, the Pemra produced a report before the court according to which three out of 117 channels were broadcasting Azan. The bench directed the Pemra to produce a report on who was operating Indian channels in Pakistan.
Legal counsel for Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) Barrister Ali Zafar however argued that not a high court but Pemra was the competent authority to regulate the media programming.
The judge remarked that Amir Liaquat introduced the culture of doing strange and indecent things in the Ramazan transmission, while the rest of anchors were his pupils. “Pemra should issue notices to all, including Faisal Qureshi, Sahir Lodhi and Fahad Mustafa etc, and if they don’t mend their ways, a ban may be imposed on them.”
Justice Siddiqui said when something wrong said against the national institutions could be censored then why it was not applied on religious matters. According to the judgment, all channels engaged in airing any content, which according to the regulator, was obscene, indecent and immoral in ordinary dictionary meaning be dealt with in accordance with penal provisions as provided by applicable laws.
The bench noted that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was an ideological state with distinction of ‘Islam’ as her state religion. The bench said that since indecency, immorality and obscenity were against the injunctions of Islam and offensive to the guarantees provided in the organic law of the country; therefore, all law enforcing agencies and regulatory bodies were under statutory obligation to ensure that no activity prejudicial to glory of Islam was permitted.
“No activity in individual or collective capacity of any citizen can be allowed, which is against the glory of Islam, integrity, security or defence of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court ‘Commission of incitement to an offence’.
“It is responsibility of the state to provide an atmosphere in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the holy Quran and the Sunnah.”
The bench said Ramazan was a holy month full of blessings and bounties from Allah SWT and it was expected that no channel would air any program that might disrupt the spirit of this month.
The bench said all TV channels shall broadcast five time Azan as per local time and during that time no advertisements and programs shall be telecast at least five minutes before breaking of the fast.
The channels will instead broadcast prayers and Darood Sharif five minutes before Azan-e-Maghrib. Barrister Ali Zafar argued that Article 19 of the Constitution guaranteed the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and freedom of press.
These rights, he said, could only be restricted on grounds of interests of glory of Islam, integrity of Pakistan, decency and morality as specified in law. He said the PBA and Pemra had voluntarily agreed to a code of conduct under the auspices of Supreme Court of Pakistan.
“If any channel violates the Pemra law or the code of conduct, then Pemra can take action in accordance with the law. However, the high court is a court of law and not a regulator. As such, the court has no authority to take over the role of Pemra and pass directions on programming of channels nor can the court direct as to what programmes can be aired or not. This is the role of Pemra only and to decide what is obscene or indecent or against the Islamic values are all matters of policy and fall within the domain of the executive.”
Barrister Zafar submitted that no generalized standard of what was decent or indecent, obscene or not obscene could be laid down or applied by the court.
He said if such petitions were allowed, every form of bigotry would be converted into a moral basis for law to abolish freedom of speech and expression and freedom of press.
“The court also has no jurisdiction to decide generally on what is moral or decent and which programme falls and which does not in this category. Today, it is the choice of the people to watch or not to watch a particular programme and the court cannot ban any particular kind of show generally,” he said.