BOL News: PEMRA conceals facts, says Agha Shahid
LAHORE: The petitioner in BOL News case, Agha Shahid Rasheed, has alleged that PEMRA deliberately concealed many facts while deciding the fate of the licence issue and overlooked several specific points during the proceedings of “personal hearing”.
PEMRA had announced its decision on Monday, saying no irregularity had been committed while transferring the licence of BOL News (formally Jinnah TV owned by a company, Asia News Network (Pvt) Ltd owned by property tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain). PEMRA has admitted that the company had not started its transmission within stipulated time and a show-cause notice was served upon it. The company requested for extension in the period and six more months were granted to it for the launch of the TV channel. According to PEMRA, the company launched its TV within that time. It is worth mentioning here that despite the authority’s claim the transmissions of Jinnah TV or the BOL News were never seen in any part of the country.
PEMRA also added in its decision that all the requirements were fulfilled while executing the matters on applications filed either by Asia News Network or the Labbaik (Pvt) Ltd. The NICs, CVs and tax returns were examined before taking the decisions. The petitioner has expressed its total dismay on the decision and asked the authorities to provide him with the required documents to establish the transparency of the process. The letter written to PEMRA on Wednesday reads:
“Reference the hearing at PEMRA on 18th July 2013 and order of PEMRA that I have received yesterday, I am shocked to see that, in its order, PEMRA officials have deliberately concealed and avoided to mention the ISI letter that was addressed to PEMRA (and that I had attached with my Petition) which stated that no clearance was given and also Ministry of Interior’s letter dated 04.07.2013 in which the Ministry has itself stated that no proper or valid security clearance with respect to Labbaik management was given by Ministry of Interior. Why is it that you deliberately avoided even mentioning these two letters in your order? Security clearance from Ministry of Interior is mandatory. When Ministry of Interior, backed up by ISI’s written confirmation, states that no security clearance with respect to Labbaik was ever given, how can suspension of a letter by Hon’ble Sindh High Court, be seen by PEMRA as amounting to Labbaik applying and obtaining valid security clearance from Ministry of Interior? Yet, PEMRA’s order is completely silent on this. Is this because, as the Petitioner feared at the time of filing his petition, PEMRA is under the influence and control of owners/sponsors of Labbaik. Although reference to such letters was also made at the time of hearing on 18th of July, 2013.
The order is also evasive as to why PEMRA is avoiding to demand information from the new owners of Labbaik in accordance with Rule 7 of PEMRA Rules 2009. PEMRA order itself states that paid up capital of Labbaik is just Rs. 7 million. But Labbaik’s full paid advertisement in Daily Dawn which I had annexed with my petition, among other things, offered brand new Mercedez Benz to persons who may wish to join this multibillion media group. This new media group has already imported dozens of new Mercedez the price of each of which is obviously far more than Rs. 7 million. But PEMRA, in its order, has omitted to even explore or explain as to how this company is spending more money on its own employee than its paid up capital. Who is the financier? Is the investor local, who is he? Why is he not insisting that his investment be shown in the paid up capital of Labbaik? Is all the investment from tax income? If funding is from abroad, who is the investor? Is the financing through legitimate banking channel? Why is the investment not being reflected in the paid up capital of the company because it would then make it a foreign owned company and thus ineligible to hold a license? On the other hand, if the foreign investment is through illegal means, is it drugs money? Is such a huge investment in media being used to launder black money? Is it not the responsibility of PEMRA, the primary regulator of whole media industry, to look into these questions and to seek input and cooperation from Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Finance, FBR, State Bank of Pakistan and NAB to ensure that media industry is not used as a platform to launder international crime money. But corrupt PEMRA officials are still turning blind eye to all these questions of national importance. Is that why the Parliament entrusted the regulation of the whole electronic media industry to PEMRA?
In its order rejection of all the allegations against Labbaik without even mentioning the above shocking questions, PEMRA officials have shown their complete failure and thus their ineligibility to be entrusted with the regulation of media industry in Pakistan. PEMRA has also avoided to look into the answer of the question whether the four Pakistanis who have purchased all the shares of Labbaik and are now directors, are real owners of the company or are they in fact representing some foreign investors who also own another company Axact which claims to be leading IT company of the world? The Chief Executive of Labbaik and Axact is the same person but in Axact (Pvt.) Limited, he owns only one share while all the remaining shares are owned by a Dubai company. Is this because, the IT company (Axact) is not required to be a locally owned company but a broadcasting license holding company Labbaik is required to be locally owned? Does it not raise the suspicion that the mysterious owners of Axact who are the real owners of Labbaik also, while the four Pakistani owners of Labbaik are just their front men? Does it not make it likely that Labbaik is in fact a foreign owned company and is thus, under PEMRA Ordinance 2002, is ineligible to hold a broadcasting license?
As for Axact (Pvt.) Limited, the apparent real owner of Labbaik, which claims to be the leading IT company of the world and the largest software exporter from Pakistan, its business and its funding is also shrouded in mystery. Axact is not even a member of Pakistani association of software houses, namely PASHA. The association PASHA has never seen Axact participating or bidding for any local or foreign project. Axact has no local or foreign client. It has virtually no internationally marketable product to sell. In addition to this, its source of funding and its investors are a mystery. Despite all this, while Axact has announced that within four years its software exports will rise up to 50 billion dollars, it will build the largest building in Pakistan and the largest helipad in the world, even Labbaik has announced that it will capture more than 50% of Pakistani media market within 1 year, because it has the biggest media infrastructure in Pakistan and it will offer packages to journalists that is many times more than what they are receiving at present. Brand new Mercedez Benz is quite apart from the salary package. And all this with a paid up capital of Rs. 7 million. The Chief Executive of both the companies Labbaik and Axact is the same person. Are these questions not worthy of immediate concern for PEMRA? Why PEMRA is not referring these questions to Ministry of Interior, FIA, FBR, Ministry of Finance and State Bank of Pakistan.
In addition to the above, I am surprised to note that there is neither any reference of my letter dated 18.07.2013 which I got received to your office on the same day, apart from sending the same through email, as that of the personal hearing date, in PEMRA’s order nor the contentions raised in my said letter have been addressed by PEMRA till yet. I had also requested through the said letter to provide the record regarding Bol News and its holding company Labiak (Pvt.) Limited, however, the same is also not shared yet. The factual and legal objections raised thereon was required to be settled with supply of all documents and record.
It is in view of above that I call upon you to immediately take steps to demonstrate PEMRA’s impartiality and bona fide by withdrawing PEMRA’s order dated 22.7.2013 and immediately:
(a) forward the copy of ISI letter dated 09.4.2013 and Ministry of Interior letter dated 04.7.2013 to Labbaik, as Ministry of Interior has stated that it never gave a valid security clearance to Labbaik, a condition that is mandatory for all holders of broadcasting licenses, as such Labbaik may not commence/broadcast any of its TV channels, even on changed name, for which it should immediately apply for the security clearance for its new shareholders and directors.
(b) forward all the above questions about the real owners and sponsors of Labbaik along with its source of funding and its real relationship and financial linkage with Axact (Pvt.) Limited and the owners/sponsors of Axact to Ministry of Information, Ministry of Interior, FIA, Chairman FBR, and Governor State Bank for their respective inquiries and inputs on the most urgent basis.
8. As an obligation on PEMRA, in view of Article 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 read with Article 4 whereof, the requisite information, documents and details as requested through letter of July 18, 2013 may be supplied to me at your earliest possible.”
The copies of the letter have also been sent to the federal minister for information, minister of interior affairs, minister of finance, FIA DG and FBR chairman.