Complaints against Urdu TV channels in UK rising
LONDON: The number of people complaining about Urdu language TV output in the UK is rising. In the cases concluded by Ofcom in the period 2013-2016, there were 165 complaints against Urdu language TV stations, 50 of which were upheld.
Pakistani programmes available in the UK via satellite are subject to UK rules and regulations. “The problem is they sometimes just send a direct feed of their programmes from Pakistan without adapting their content,” said Chris Banatvala, a former Ofcom regulator who now works as a consultant. “If foreign channels are broadcasting into the UK or Europe they must abide by British and European standards on issues such as impartiality, fairness, sponsorship and advertising.”
Of the 50 upheld complaints, 10 concerned relatively technical issues such as failing to acknowledge sponsorship or not retaining programme tapes. But the bulk concerned serious editorial issues.
The most serious breaches of Ofcom rules concerned religious programmes. Takbeer TV was found to have abused Ahmadis whilst Noor TV and Peace TV have both been fined for anti-Semitism. Noor TV had given airtime to a cleric who preached with approval about a Muslim murdering someone because he was Jewish.
“Channels which promulgate religious views raise difficult issues,” said Chris Banatvala. “Extreme religious views can potentially lead to incitement and a close relationship between religion and politics can lead to impartiality issues.”
While channels devoted to Islam were the subject of 15 valid complaints, news channels were found in breach of the rules on 35 occasions. However, even for the news channels religion remains a problematic area. Rulings have included decisions against condoning marital rape, broadcasting potentially dangerous claims about the power of faith healers and accusing named individuals of blasphemy, including the Nobel prize-winning education activist Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai.
Other issues for the Urdu TV channels have involved broadcasting unsubstantiated and highly damaging allegations against named individuals, political bias and broadcasting highly violent images.
The trend is for an increasing number of complaints to Ofcom each year. There were 13 complaint-driven enquiries in 2013 followed by 35 in 2014, and 40 in 2015. Last year there were 46 enquires as a result of complaints against Urdu language TV channels broadcasting in the UK.
Meanwhile, Ofcom has started an investigation that could to lead to ARY losing its licences to broadcast in the UK. Ofcom said it was investigating the operations of ARY News, ARY Digital, ARY QTV, ARY World News and ARY Entertainment and QTV the Islamic education channel.
Officials in the Ofcom media office failed to comment on the investigation but industry observers believe that the process could result in ARY losing its right to broadcast in the UK. “While Ofcom hasn’t stated precisely what it’s investigating, it could lead to the revocation of the broadcaster’s licences,” said Mr Banatvala. “Revocation of a licence by the regulator is a very serious sanction and is not taken lightly”. A decision could be taken as early as this week.
Last month ARY was found to have defamed Geo CEO Mir Shakilur Rehman by alleging he had links with the CIA, Mossad and RAW. It also accused him, without any foundation, of committing blasphemy and taking covert funding from foreign governments in order to promote their agenda. As well as having to pay £185,000 damages, ARY also faces legal costs of over £2m. And, in a legal first in the UK, it had to broadcast the summary of the judgement against it.
Following the legal judgement ARY News and the other ARY channels in the UK applied for voluntary bankruptcy.
The ARY Network currently has TLCS or Television Licensable Content Service licences which are needed to broadcast services in the UK with the principal purpose of providing television programmes on satellite, cable, and other delivery platforms.
Geo first complained to Ofcom about the ARY broadcasts on Nov 22, 2013. After several months of delays related to agreeing translations of the relevant programmes and whether the complaint was about incitement for violence or a lack of fairness, Geo gave up on Ofcom and decided to use the UK courts instead. “We started to realise Ofcom may not come to any decision and would not be able to provide us with relief,” a Geo official said.
It now seems Ofcom has been spurred into action on the issue of ARY’s licences by the outcome of the court case. Asked to comment on Geo’s lack of confidence in its processes, Ofcom failed to respond, claiming that it did not have to answer the question under the terms of the UK’s Freedom of Information laws.