Pemra disowns assertions about foreign-funded programmes
By: NASIR IQBAL
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) denied in the Supreme Court on Monday it had ever made assertions that a media house was airing foreign-funded programmes.
“We categorically deny this and have even contacted top bosses of the media house to satisfy them,” said Zulfikar Maluka, the counsel for Pemra.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had taken up an application moved by anchorpersons Hamid Mir and Absar Alam requesting it to make public evidence in support of the serious allegations made by senior Pemra officers which were also made part of the voluminous report issued by a two-man media commission headed by retired Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid.
The commission was appointed by a bench headed by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja on Jan 15 in response to the petitions filed by the anchorpersons requesting the court to disclose the names of beneficiaries of secret funds being maintained by the information ministry. The report, along with recommendations, was submitted to the court on July 3.
After holding meetings with Pemra chairman Chaudhry Rashid Ahmad, executive director Dr Abdul Jabbar, director general (licensing) Ashfaq Jumani, general manager (legal) Nasir Ahmad and secretary Suhail Ahmed, the commission had included unsubstantiated but serious allegations in its report.
“It was revealed that lots of funds were pouring into media outlets from abroad in the form of sponsorship and that the programme ‘Zara Socheay’ had received sponsorship to the extent of 20 million pounds,” the report said.
It also mentioned allegations that “Aman ki Asha” was being funded by a Norwegian NGO ‘Friends Without Borders’ and that the footprints of this funding led to Indian sponsors, including state television Doordarshan.
Hamid Mir said Pemra had levelled a serious allegation the evidence of which should be shared with the Supreme Court.
Absar Alam said the regulatory authority had made highly objectionable and unsubstantiated assertions.
“The same thing you people do all day long,” said Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, a member of the bench. He recalled that former prime minister Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy had also been declared an Indian agent without any evidence.
Advocate Maluka said that no such statement had been given by the senior Pemra officers. Had they ever intended to level such allegations, they would have given these in writing, he said, adding: “I don’t know from where the media commission had quoted these allegations.”
Justice Jawwad Khawaja said a simple denial would not be sufficient.
The counsel said Pemra could issue a press note in this regard.
In its order, the court said the allegations were not only provocative but also involved the goodwill and credibility of the media house as well as these programmes. “Such assertions can be stretched to any extent,” it said, adding that prime facie at this stage it was difficult to accept the denial made by Pemra because it had been recorded by a commission comprising highly reputable individuals who had no reasons for incorporating these assertions in its report.
The court decided to issue notices to the five officers of Pemra – Chaudhry Rashid Ahmad, Dr Abdul Jabbar, Ashfaq Jumani, Nasir Ahmad and Suhail Ahmed – asking them to explain their position and furnish evidence on Aug 2. They are also required to disclose the source on the basis of which they made such assertions, particularly about the programmes.