The Pemra puzzle
The forces arrayed against the Jang/Geo Group may again have overplayed their hand. At this juncture they are now even trying to hide the fact that they are illegally orchestrating events. It would be comical were the outcome not so frightening for the future of a free media in the country. Three members of Pemra, obviously given their marching orders by the powers-that-be, decided to vote in favour of cancelling three of Geo’s licences. The vote was as farcical as those usually held by unaccountable dictators. The three moral pygmies of Pemra – Asrar Abbasi, Mian Shams and Fareeha Iftikhar – should be remembered as collaborators in the efforts to snatch away our democracy and freedom. Had these people read the Pemra Rules, 2009, they would have come across a clause clearly stating that a meeting of the regulatory body can only be called by its chairman, or a majority of its 12 members. Their actions were so blatantly illegal that they could not even hold this pre-ordained vote at the Pemra headquarters, having to do so near the regulator’s headquarters. Pemra itself – or at least the vast majority of its members – has condemned the decision. The illegal licence cancellation then never happened, and a spokesman for Pemra quickly distanced the body from the entire episode, stating that any final decision would, as decided previously, only come at the May 28 meeting of the authority. The matter has already been referred for legal advice to the relevant ministries and the Council of Complaints in Sindh has already submitted an opinion on the matter of blasphemy. This will be put before Pemra.
The problem, of course, is that fear is so great that cable companies have pre-emptively decided to take Geo off the air. Geo has vanished from the airwaves in 90 percent of areas across the country, also because it has been pushed down so low on the order of channels by operators that it is inaccessible on older television sets and in many rural areas. The fact that this has happened, in complete violation of laid-down procedures, highlights the need to ensure that the media regulatory body can be run effectively, efficiently and legally. Now that Pemra has unequivocally spoken, the cable companies should restore the channels immediately. The media is a hugely important institution; it is central to lives and to people’s constitutionally protected right to know and to access information. The witch hunt directed against Jang and Geo is reminiscent of the events in the town of Salem in 1692, when mass hysteria, fuelled for ulterior motives, overtook logic. Many elements have combined to try and burn Geo at the stake – without going through any process of law. As a result, lives have been endangered; attacks have already been reported on Geo’s vehicles, and the fear is that there is more to come. The persecution continues with the maverick action by three Pemra members only adding to the mess. So many of us remain unable to see the bigger picture, to visualise what such precedents mean, and that puts us in a truly precarious position, as we watch insanity unfold.