Allah aside, no one can block or off-air Geo unlawfully: CJP
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday observed that except Allah, no one on earth can block or off-air transmission of Geo channels unlawfully and directed the management of Independent Media Corporation (Geo News) to file a fresh application on the matter.
A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, heard the Media Commission case. During the course of hearing, Hamid Mir, the petitioner in the Media Commission case, and Jam Asif, advocate, counsel for Independent Media Corporation (Geo TV), informed the court that transmission of Geo Television has been blocked and off-aired across the country.
Jam Asif, counsel for Independent Media Corporation (Geo TV), submitted before the court that they had filed a Civil Miscellaneous Application (CMA) before the court as he said transmissions of Geo TV channels have been blocked and off-aired across the country in violation of Article 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.
Justice Ijazul Ahsen, another member of the bench, recalled that it’s an old issue and the cable operators were not showing Geo TV. The chief justice, however, inquired as to who blocked the Geo TV channels. Waqar Rana, Law Officer, representing the government, however, told the court that Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has directed restoring the transmission of Geo TV channels.
Hamid Mir said that it should know as to who off-aired the transmission of Geo TV channels. Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar remarked that except Allah, no one on earth can block transmission of Geo TV channels unlawfully.
Jam Asif recalled that they had filed their application in 2012 but the chief justice directed the counsel for Geo TV to file a fresh petition under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, adding that they cannot hear the issue in the Media Commission’s case.
The chief justice further asked the learned counsel for Geo TV if he thinks that cable operators should show Geo TV on a particular number or initial numbers and it was their right, then the court should be convinced in this regard.
The Independent Media Corporation (Pvt) Limited had filed a CMA under Order XXXIII Rule 6 of the Supreme Court Rules 1980 read with Section 151 of Code of Civil Procedure and all other enabling provisions.
It contended when the next general elections of 2018 are approaching, a very serious situation for petitioner’s/applicant’s channels and for their affiliates has emerged as all of group channels have been completely blocked/off-aired by a number distribution licensees of Pemra from many days.
“Such illegal and unconstitutional steps are in total violation of Article 19 and Article 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan,” it submitted. The Independent Media Corporation further submitted that one of the most important conditions of a cable operator’s licence subject to which they can engage in the business of distributing media content through cable is laid down in Section ‘28’ of the ordinance which requires that;
A. “Distribution service operator shall not cease or suspend broadcasting except on account of force majeaur or with the prior approval of the Authority (i.e. Pemra).”
Similarly, under Clause 8(9) of Pemra (Distribution Service Operations) Regulations, 2011 (hereinafter ‘the Regulations”) the cable operators are obligated to “Except in case of force majeaur, a licensee shall not change the position of any channel being distributed by it unless a forty-eight hour prior notice has been given to its subscribers.”
It further contended that Clause ‘7’ of general terms and conditions of the licence of cable operators requires that “the licensee shall not stop, cease or suspend the broadcast or distribution of programs except on account of causes or circumstances beyond the reasonable control of licensee or with the prior approval of the Authority, without a clear notice of at least thirty days to the Authority and the target viewers, listeners or subscribers.”
The Independent Media Corporation further informed the court that on February 26, 2018, certain cable operators operating in Karachi region, in total defiance/violation of Pemra Ordinance, regulations and terms of licenses stopped/blocked broadcasting of the petitioner’s channel ‘Geo News’.
That on the same day (i.e. 26.02.2018), Petitioner/Applicant immediately approached Pemra through filing a formal complaint and requested them to take necessary legal actions against the delinquent licensed cable operators and to get the smooth/uninterrupted transmission/broadcast of petitioner’s channel restored.
The court was further informed that on February 28, 2018, when the transmission of petitioner’s channel was still blocked, the petitioner once again approached Pemra reminding it of its statutory obligations under the Pemra ordinance and requested for immediate restoration of the petitioner’s channel.
The court was further informed that the management of Independent Media Corporation has repeatedly approached Pemra for looking into the matter, however, it was regretfully noted that the even after lapse of considerable time, Pemra has miserably failed to take any legal actions for the immediate restoration of petitioner’s channel.
The court was further informed that from the last two-three days, all of petitioner’s/applicant group channels namely, Geo News, Geo Entertainment, Geo Kahani, Geo Tez and Geo Sports have been completely blocked and off-aired.
Such illegal blockage has been widely noticed and different media houses have published articles against such illegal/unconstitutional blockage of the petitioner’s channel, it contended. The court was informed that even the very well-known and senior journalists have raised their voices against such blatantly illegal and unconstitutional actions against the petitioner’s channels. However, during all this period, Pemra has acted as silent spectator and has totally abdicated from statutory obligations and has not taken any serious action to get the broadcast of petitioner’s channels restored.
The Independent Media Corporation submitted that if such illegal/unconstitutional actions against it continue, not only the petitioner would suffer an irreparable loss but also thousands of employees of petitioner’s channel would also suffer by crippling of petitioner’s channels. It prayed the apex court to direct Pemra and IGPs, chief secretaries of all the provinces, secretary interior Government of Pakistan to take immediate action to ensure smooth transmission of petitioner’s/applicant’s all channels on their original positions. It further prayed the apex court to constitute a permanent independent commission to urgently handle such illegal shutdown/blocking of licensed broadcast channels by the distribution licensees of Pemra.
Earlier, during the course of hearing, Hamid Mir, the petitioner in Media Commission’s case, insisted that the recommendations of commission, appointed by the apex court, should be implemented in letter and spirit.
He alleged that the federal government is now trying to backtrack from its commitment made to the apex court with regard to implementation of recommendations of the commission. He pleaded to strike down sections 4 and 6 of Pemra Ordinance in order to improve the function of the Authority.
Additional Attorney General Waqar Rana told the court that the independence of Pemra can be ensured by making appointment of a permanent chairman as well as members of the Authority strictly in accordance with Section 6 of Pemra Ordinance 2002.
He contended that the court instead of striking down the provisions 4 and 6 of Pemra Ordinance may interpret it in a way to ensure independence of the Authority to achieve its objectives to regulate the licensees.
Meanwhile, the court directed the law officer to come up today (Thursday) with adequate proposals for implementation of the recommendations of the commission and adjourned the hearing.