PEMRA Council not competent to suspend TV licence
The PEMRA Council of Complaints is not competent to propose punitive action to the extent of suspension of licence of any television channel as did its members the other day. The said Council is only empowered to recommend censure and fine and that too to the PEMRA Authority under PEMRA Ordinance 2002 on violation of the provisions of the said Ordinance.
So far as the suspension of a private television licence is concerned the said Council has no power or authority whatsoever to pass any direction for it. It appears that members of the Council of Complaints who addressed a news conference at Islamabad on Tuesday evening are completely ignorant about their functions which have been specifically mentioned in PEMRA Ordinance 2002 and which provide a very limited role for them. Interestingly, while the PEMRA Council of Complaints has proposed suspension of the licence of three Geo private television channels the other day the telecast of the three private channels cannot be suspended until and unless it is approved and directed by the PEMRA Authority itself.
It is the PEMRA Authority only that can proceed and pass appropriate punitive orders against an electronic media however the Authority without its Chairman under PEMRA will be incompetent and incomplete to pass any order. This is why the Geo private television channels that were claimed recommended and suspended by the said Council are continuing their telecast and the management has rightly opted not to stop airing the programs on the unauthorized recommendation of the PEMRA Council. As per law the Authority which is fully authorized to take punitive action against a broadcast or telecast is supposed under the law to be consisted of a Chairman and twelve members to be appointed by the President of Pakistan out of which the Chairman of the Authority shall be an eminent professional of known integrity and competence having substantial experience in media, business, management, finance, economics or law.
Similarly out of twelve members one shall be appointed by the Federal Government on full time basis and five shall be eminent citizens chosen to ensure representation of all provinces with expertise in one or more of the following fields: media, law, human rights, and social service. Of the five members from the general public, two members shall be women whereas Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Secretary, Interior Division, Chairman, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and Chairman, Central Board of Revenue shall be the ex officio members.
The remaining two members shall be appointed by the Federal Government on need basis on the recommendation of the Chairman and the members shall receive such fee and expenses for each meeting as may be prescribed. A member, other than an ex officio member, shall be deemed to have vacated his office if he absents himself for three consecutive meetings of the Authority without the leave of the Authority. Therefore it is crystal clear and without any shadow of doubt that the federal government in terms of the provisions of PEMRA Ordinance 2002 commands a complete control over PEMRA. As such having its control the federal government may take any punitive action against any private television channel through the Authority as and when it deemed it necessary to give effect to the provisions of PEMRA Ordinance 2002. On the other hand the PEMRA Council of Complaints has been made authorized to receive and review complaints made to PEMRA by persons or organizations.
The role of the Council of Complaints has been prescribed under section 26 of the said Ordinance which provided that the Federal Government shall by notification in the Official Gazette establish Councils of Complaints at Islamabad, the Provincial capitals and also at such other places as the Federal Government may determine. Each Council shall receive and review complaints made by persons or organizations from the general public against any aspects of programs broadcast or distributed by a station established through a licence issued by the Authority and render opinions on such complaints. Each Council shall consist of a Chairperson and five members being citizens of eminence from the general public at least two of whom shall be women.
The Councils shall have the powers to summon a licencee against whom a complaint has been made and call for his explanation regarding any matter relating to its operation. The Authority under the said Ordinance is supposed to formulate rules for the functions and operation of the Councils. The Councils may recommend to the Authority appropriate action of censure, fine against a broadcast or CTV station or licencee for violation of the codes of program content and advertisements as approved by the Authority as may be prescribed. However there is no mention of the suspension of a licence of an electronic media by the said Council of Complaints. It can just recommend censure and fine and that too to the Authority constituted under PEMRA Ordinance 2002.
So far as the suspension of the electronic media is concerned it is specifically provided under PEMRA ordinance 2002 and it is the only Authority that can do it. The relevant provision of section 28 of PEMRA Ordinance 2002 says that a broadcast media or distribution service operator shall not cease or suspend broadcasting except on account of force majeure or with the prior approval of the Authority. Since the Authority competent has not yet passed any order against the said channels as such the said channels will be justified in airing its programs until found guilty by the PEMRA Authority. In terms of section 28 of the PEMRA Ordinance 2002 the Authority shall by order in writing, giving reasons therefore, prohibit any broadcast media or distribution service operator from – (a) broadcasting or re-broadcasting or distributing any program or advertisement if it is of the opinion that such particular program or advertisement is against the ideology of Pakistan or is likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility or endangers national security or is pornographic, obscene or vulgar or is offensive to the commonly accepted standards of decency; or (b) engaging in any practice or act which amounts to abuse of media power by way of harming the legitimate interests of another licencee or willfully causing damage to any other person.