Justice Saqib Nisar, the most senior judge of the Supreme Court after the chief justice, on Monday expressed dismay over an apparently malicious campaign against the judiciary and announced in the court that he did not have close relations with “people in power”.
“A letter on my desk, this morning, has indicated that a television channel has tried to create the impression that I enjoy good relations with people in power and [therefore] the government will get decisions in their favour,” regretted Justice Nisar, who is in line to become the next chief justice after incumbent Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali retires towards the end of December this year.
Heading a two-judge bench, Justice Nisar had taken up a contempt of court case against private television channel Din News which is accused of airing footage regarding an alleged private meeting between Senator Nihal Hashmi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Justice Amir Hani Muslim — a sitting apex court judge who is also a member of the five-judge bench hearing the Panama Papers case.
In response to this, the chief justice had declared the news a figment of the reporter’s imagination. Terming it a character-assassination campaign, the chief justice ordered the court office to initiate contempt proceedings against the management of the television channel
Barrister Ali Zafar and Advocate Azhar Siddiq, representing the television organisation’s management, submitted an unqualified and unconditional apology and expressed remorse over what had transpired.
Advocate S.A. Rehman, counsel for the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, told the court that Pemra had blocked the transmission of Din News for a month and fined the channel Rs1 million.
Justice Nisar said that the institution of the judiciary was one of the pillars of the state and, therefore, needed to be protected especially, “since we cannot issue press releases or tender personal explanations when people make such comments about us”.
Referring to the footage aired on the channel, Justice Nisar observed that it appeared as if it had meant to discredit and malign the judiciary, adding that there was always room for constructive criticism at seminars by bar councils.
The damage caused by the news item could not be undone, Justice Nisar regretted. “We feel pain…Don’t judge us…Such aspersions hurt us.”
Gesturing towards reporters in the court room, he said custom necessitated mutual and reciprocal respect between the court and the media.
He said it wasn’t that the judiciary was a sacred cow, but the conduct of the judge shown in the television package was damaging. “We need to consider whether it is a part of a malicious campaign.”
Barrister Ali Zafar, representing Mehmood Sadiq, Ms Uzma Sadiq and Mustafa Niaz, shareholders of the Fortune Marketing Limited which runs the Din News, requested the Supreme Court to discharge the contempt notice in the interest of justice.
The counsel said that the news was against the channel’s policy and SOPs and that such a news package ought not to have been broadcast.
On the charge of gross negligence, the reply stated that the news producer, production staff, news anchor and the news team connected with the news package had been suspended and an internal inquiry initiated. An in-house inquiry committee has been constituted by the management which agreed that this was gross negligence on the part of the news production team and while holding responsible, the services of news director Iftikhar Kazmi have been terminated with effect from Nov 24.
Moreover, the remaining staff members have been issued written warnings to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. They have been asked to refuse to work on stories and news items which might undermine the prestige and authority of the judiciary and the armed forces, and to abide by the code of conduct laid down by Pemra and the guidelines of the federal government.
“It is a stated policy of the Din News management that stories prejudicial against Islam, the judiciary, the armed forces and national security would not be aired on the channel or published on social media channels of the network,” the reply stated.
The court put off the proceedings for a week after the counsel said he would submit an amended statement to the court by including that the package aired by the channel was absolutely false and fabricated.