TV channel didn’t reply to Pemra notice, court told
KARACHI: On a writ petition filed by Hum TV, Express Entertainment, TV ONE, ARY Digital and Geo Entertainment, Justice Mrs Ayesha Malik of the Lahore High Court, after hearing in detail all the parties, including senior most officials of Pemra, directed the local distributor of a foreign TV channel to immediately stop showing any Indian media content.
The honourable justice also ordered that in case the foreign channel were to violate the court’s order by showing Indian media content, Pemra must take that foreign channel off air.
Nadeem Ahmed argued on behalf of the petitioners. The five leading local entertainment channels of Pakistan had complained to Pemra that while the authority had been subjecting them to a strict restriction of not airing any Indian content more than six percent of their total transmission, three months ago, a new foreign channel was increasingly showing more and more Indian dramas and was also claiming that it was entitled to use 90 percent of its transmission for showing Indian dramas.
Local drama broadcasters complained to Pemra that while they had no issue with the restriction that Pemra, in its discretion, had imposed on local broadcasters with regard to Indian content, Pemra needs to take immediate steps to stop the said foreign channel from its illegal transmission of Indian dramas to protect the local drama industry.
In response to the local broadcaster’s petition, Pemra produced a copy of the distribution licence for the said foreign channel which showed that the permission was only for ‘foreign content dubbed in Urdu’. Pemra took a stand in the Lahore High Court that as its distribution licence for the said foreign channel specifies 90 percent of ‘foreign content dubbed in Urdu’, it was not entitled to show any Indian content whatsoever. After hearing the stay application of the petitioners on September 11, 2012, the Lahore High Court did not grant a stay but directed Pemra to itself hold a hearing at Pemra’s Head Office at Islamabad and hear the point of views of all the parties specially that of the foreign channel and then submit its report in court within 10 days.
Pemra called representatives of the petitioners to its headquarters on September 18, 2012. In that hearing, while all the petitioners submitted their view point, the representatives of the foreign channel did not even care to deny the view taken by the petitioners and Pemra. While arguing the stay application on Friday, the counsel for the petitioners, Nadeem Ahmed, took the honourable court through the documents on the court’s record and showed that surprisingly, the said foreign channel had never claimed that they were entitled to show Indian content.
Despite a lapse of 10 weeks, the said foreign channel has to date not sent any reply to Pemra containing a single sentence that it is entitled to broadcast Indian media content, none of the show cause notices have been responded and even in the personal hearing at Pemra headquarters that was conducted on the direction of the Lahore High Court, did not even care to deny the stand that was taken by the petitioners and Pemra that foreign channel was not entitled to broadcast any Indian media content.
The counsel for the petitioners also submitted before the honourable court that the undisputed legal position at the time of argument of stay application was as follows:
i. Both the petitioners and the said foreign channel were bound to comply with the written directions that are issued by Pemra from time to time.
ii. The said foreign channel had received a written direction from Pemra 10 weeks ago to stop broadcasting Indian media content.
iii. To date the said direction had neither been withdrawn, nor set aside nor suspended.
iv. The said foreign channel continues to act in violation of that direction.
Above being the undisputed legal position, the honourable court was requested to comply with the direction of Pemra.
On the direction of the honourable court, Pemra’s senior most officials DG Operations and DG Licensing and Pemra’s legal aid explained in detail their regulatory approach, the distinction between the local broadcasters and foreign channels that are only allowed to be distributed in Pakistan in case a local company took a responsibility that the broadcasting activity on that foreign channel will be strictly in accordance with the distribution licence that is granted to that company by Pemra.
They also explained at the time of obtaining the distribution licence of that foreign channel, they were given to understand that the 90 percent of the said foreign channel will be used for showing different programs and dramas from different countries and languages after dubbing them in Urdu for Pakistani viewers. They said the distributor of the said foreign channel neither asked nor were given any permission for showing any Indian media content. In response to honourable courts query as to why the regulator treat Indian media content did differently, Pemra’s officials explained that they could not remove the restriction unless Indian officials showed reciprocity and allowed our channels to be shown in India.
When the honourable court asked if it could, by way of injunction, restrict their transmission of Indian content to six percent, Pemra officials explained that this would open floodgates as all the foreign channels that are being shown in Pakistan will also start showing six percent Indian media content. It was thus after hearing the foreign channel’s counsel for more than one hour, the honourable court proceeded to grant the petitioners temporary injunction application by ordering the distributor company of the foreign channel to immediately stop showing any Indian media content and in case they were to violate this direction of honourable court, Pemra was ordered to take the entire foreign channel off the air. The hearing on the petition was adjourned.
The counsel of the petitioners have expressed appreciation for the fair and impartial stand that was taken by Pemra and its senior officials as it is a long way for protection of the location drama industry. He said it was only because of Pemra’s support that a vibrant local drama industry has emerged in Pakistan employing thousands of people including actors, cameramen, artists, technicians, writers, singers, and other such people.