Insaaf say Geo : Howzat! | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

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Insaaf say Geo : Howzat!

Shoaib Raja

ISLAMABAD: The marauding government was shown the way to the pavilion by the Supreme Court which ordered the immediate issuance of a licence to the country’s first and only sports channel, Geo Super, a right that had persistently been denied by the belligerent executive.

The Supreme Court on Monday not only directed Pemra to immediately issue a licence to Geo Super but also ordered that the compliance report to this effect be submitted to the court within three days. Ruling that Pemra had no right to keep the case pending for four years, the court observed that under Article 4 of the Constitution, no excuses from Pemra were tenable anymore.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry also severely reprimanded Acting Chairman Pemra Dr Abdul Jabbar, who has been acting as the government’s hatchet man, when he tried to mislead the court yet again by stating that, “being an acting chairman, I am unable to issue the licence”. His lame ruse caused the otherwise calm chief justice to momentarily lose his cool and angrily retort: “ Then just go home and let the real chairman come and work in accordance with the law.” The CJ then added: “Otherwise, we could also impose a Rs0.5 million penalty on Pemra.”

The three-member bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Tariq Pervaiz and Justice Amir Hani Muslim was hearing the case regarding non-issuance of licence to Geo Super, which quite apart from being given a licence by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority had also been forced into ceasing transmission altogether.

Counsel for Geo Super, Muhammad Akram Sheikh submitted before the court that while the Sindh High Court had accepted the Geo Super petition it had not issued any specific direction to Pemra. He further submitted that as per law, Peemra was supposed to decide the application within 100 days but the same had been kept pending now for four years on the flimsy pretext of ‘security clearance’.

Upon this the Honourable Chief Justice asked the counsel about the nature of the security clearance and with whom exactly the authorities had security concerns. Responding to the query, Akram Sheikh informed that the authorities wanted security clearance of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, owner of the largest media group of Pakistan.

Upon hearing this ludicrous rationale, a visibly surprised Justice Tariq Pervez wondered how the government could allow other channels of the same group to be aired if its owner was considered a security risk. Justice Tariq Pervaiz expressed his amazement at the fact that while news channels were a far more sensitive matter and Geo had the licence for that, it was not being allowed to show cricket and hockey. “It’s like a man was given a licence for kalashnikov but being denied one for a revolver,” he said.

“Are you people a security risk to Pakistan? “ a bemused Chief Justice then asked Akram Sheikh, who responded, “We are only trying to save this country.” Upon this the CJ smilingly asked, “Then why aren’t you being issued the licence?”

Counsel Sheikh replied that even though Sindh High Court had accepted Geo’s plea, they were again left at the mercy of Pemra. “Are you saying that your case should not have been sent to Pemra?” asked the CJ. Sheikh argued that when SHC had accepted the plea, Geo should have gotten the sought relief also. He also showed the court all correspondence of Pemra and the interior ministry, which had been thrown out by the Sindh high Court. Agreeing to his contention, the CJ remarked that it was indeed incumbent upon authorities to cite tangible causes for denying security clearance.

Chief justice Chaudry then asked counsel for Pemra that if Pemra claimed to be obeying the courts, why had Pemra not acted in accordance with the Sindh High court’s decision. “Is this not the contempt of court,” he said and went on to tell an increasingly uneasy Pemra lawyer, “Geo Supper can also claim damages, do you know this?”

The CJ further observed that Pemra’s actions were not only illegal but also without moral justification. At one stage he pointedly told the Pemra lawyer,” Do you think that the courts have no authority and that plaintiffs should be left at the mercy of authorities”? Not that anyone expected any reply for the Pemra lawyer at this point.

Responding to another bench query, Counsel for Pemra, Advocate Ali Raza submitted that it was not Pemra that required a security licence but the interior ministry. Upon this the Chief Justice asked him if there was any counsel on behalf of interior ministry present. Not surprisingly, there was none. CJ asked the Pemra lawyer to explain why, if Pemra itself did not have any problem, did it not issue the licence after the SHC verdict, when its own rules bound it to decide cases within 100 days.

Justice Ameer Hani Muslim also asked about the steps Pemra had taken since the SHC verdict To this the Pemra lawyer said it had applied for a copy of the verdict and added that in the July 2, 2007 application the petitioners had also applied for international rights. The CJ put paid to this argument by pointing out that Pemra had not objected on this ground anywhere in the case.

The Chief Justice then asked the Pemra counsel why Pemra should not be given a contempt of court notice for non-compliance with the orders of the Sindh High Court. He regretted that non- compliance of court orders has become a fashion nowadays.

During the proceedings, Pemra tried seeking more time but the Chief Justice ordered them to bring the record relating to the correspondence between Geo Super and Pemra during the 100-day period. When the record was brought to the court, Counsel for Geo Super Akram Sheikh submitted that at the time of the application for the licence in 2002 there was no condition for security clearance in the rules and that it was only incorporated in 2009. He further submitted that in June 2007, they applied for a 15-year licence for Sports Channel Geo Super and it was supposed to be given or refused within 100 days.

He further submitted that now the Pakistan Cricket Board had informed the Geo Super management that if they did not get a licence by June 8, 2011, they would be banned. Chief Justice observed that Sindh High Court should have taken care of this issue. He said that ideally the SHC should have passed a clear directive instead of referring the case back to Pemra but stressed that even in this instance, Pemra was ethically bound to issue the licence without delay as its objections had been thrown out by the Sindh High Court anyway.

Ali Raza submitted that security clearance was not Pemra’s issue and they had different duties. Chief Justice observed that Geo Super was denied for malafide reasons and if the court now asked, you will have to issue licence within 24 hours.

Akram Sheikh submitted that his client had totally satisfied Pemra and every requirement was duly complied with. “IF we had not fulfill all the requirements, only then they could have denied it,” Akram Sheikh said.

Ali Raza submitted that how could they issue a licence from here when they have licence from Dubai? Justice Tariq Pervaiz observed that there are examples of Discovery and ARY channel, which have licence from other countries too. He further observed that the High Court must not give them two months period in this regard. Justice Ami Hani Muslim observed that Pemra has violated the directions of Sindh High Court.

Ali Raza submitted that the court could issue a direction to decide this matter in accordance with the law. Ali Raza submitted that the Acting Chairman did not have the requisite authority and could only issue a temporary licence. After hearing both counsels, the court ordered Pemra to issue the licence immediately and submit a compliance report within 3 days.

Later, talking to the media, Akram Sheikh said the judgment was a victory for rule of law. He further said that Geo now had the right to file a damages claim hinting that it could be for Rs100 crore or more.
Source: The News