The Supreme Court indicted 5 January 2015 ARY News anchorperson Mubashar Lucman and channel’s CEO Salman Iqbal in a ‘contempt of court case’ relating to airing of a programme against the judiciary which was termed as “scandalous” and “defamatory” with defendants pleading “not guilty” and denying the charges.
Freedom Network [FN], Pakistan first media watchdog organization, is following the case in the apex court with great concern. “The basic human right of freedom of expression is already under a lot of strain in Pakistan from different individuals, institutions and organizations. Any judgment devoid of reverence for this freedom can further infringe on it,” FN expressed fears in its press freedom alert on 8 January 2015.
FN also stressed the media needs to exercise the right to freedom of expression with great care. “Unsubstantiated allegations and mud-slinging can only pose threat to fragile freedom of expression and give its opponents ammunition for further restrictions.”
No-one, including the judiciary and the military, should be exempted from fair comment, the press freedom organization underscored. “Media’s role as a watchdog should be respected. But at the same time Pakistani media also needs to promote ethical journalism. There are serious questions within the journalists’ community about ethical standards.”
Irfan Qadir, counsel for the defendents, termed the charge ‘vague,’ Dawn newspaper reported in its Tuesday online edition.
The contempt charges were framed against the respondents for the May 29 talk show ‘Khara Sach’ in which Mr Lucman had levelled serious allegations against SC judge Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja – his relationship with Mir Shakeelur Rehman, the owner of Geo TV network, and the sale of a property in Lahore by the judge’s wife to the Punjab government.
“By your words, gestures and tone, the respondents have not only defamed and scandalised the court but also made a statement against a judge and thus tended to bring him into hatred, ridicule and contempt and thereby committed contempt of the court within the meaning of Article 204 (2) of the Constitution read with Section 3 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance V of 2003 and punishable under section 5 of the law,” the charge against the anchor and the CEO read.
The charge went on to add that since the offence made was within the cognisance of this court, the bench had decided that both be tried by the Supreme Court on contempt charges.
The charges were framed against the two despite the fact that they had tendered unconditional apology, but with a rider that they were offering regrets for the ‘unintended consequences’.
“In the larger national and public interest it was resolved by the respondents to seek unconditional and unqualified apology for the unintended consequences before this honourable court on the last date of hearing so as to make it absolutely clear to all and sundry, including this court, that respect for judiciary and its judges is dear to the respondents,” the apology submitted by the respondents said.
“Don’t you think that you were adding conditions in your apology,” Justice Afzal asked the respondents’ counsel.
Irfan Qadir said that sometimes a situation arose where intentions were not bad but things said might be construed as contempt. He requested the court to give the respondents time to understand and reply to the charges.
The court appointed Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt to prosecute the respondents under the contempt law. The respondents were asked to submit within a week their reply to the charges.
The court ordered the prosecution and the respondents’ side to submit within a fortnight lists of their witnesses and postponed the proceedings till Jan 22.
When the court was framing the charges, Mr Lucman tried to defend his CEO by stating that Mr Iqbal was not responsible because he had no prior knowledge of what he was about to say in the talk show.
The CEO said he had understood the language of the charge, but not the actual allegations.
The bench asked him to go and watch the entire programme himself and decide what he wanted to say in his defence and said the court did not want to pick and choose from the programme.
When the court observed that charges had also been framed against former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the counsel said that reservations were being expressed against convicting the prime minister. “Are you bigger than the Supreme Court,” Justice Ijaz Chaudhry asked Irfan Qadir.
The counsel said the apex court was not above the law but subservient to the Constitution.
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