Pemra told to ensure end of TV channels’ blackout
By Nasir Iqbal
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court ordered the chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), Mr Mushtaq Malik, on Friday to immediately ensure uninterrupted transmission of two private television channels and take strict action against cable operators who blocked the channels in different cities.
“Under the circumstances, sufficient material is available to believe that the cable operators have obstructed the broadcast of the two private channels contrary to Article 19 (freedom of speech) and 19-A (right to information) as well as Pemra Ordinance, 2002,” a bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday observed.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by the ARY Digital Network and another one moved on behalf of subscribers of Geo News against four cable operators — WorldCall, Media Plus, City Communications and Karachi Cable Service.
The Pemra chairman, acting Information Secretary Mansoor Sohail and Interior Secretary Chaudhry Qamar Zaman had been asked to appear before the court to justify the blacking out of the channels in different cities.
The court took the Pemra chairman to task over his response to different questions regarding his duties as a regulator, but noted that the federal government had nothing to do with it.
Prima facie Article 18 of the Constitution relating to the freedom of trade and business had been violated because the citizens being consumers of the cable had an inalienable right to watch any channel of their choice, the order said, adding that no authority had any right to deny the rights conferred by the Constitution to the citizens.
The cable operators had a legal obligation to transmit the broadcast of all channels because they received fees from thousands of consumers and paid huge taxes to Pemra to run their business, it said.
After having obtained licences from Pemra for running the business, the cable operators had no right to obstruct any channel, the court held, adding that if there was a situation of law and order, it was the responsibility of the cable operators to protect their staff because “we have been told by the information secretary that the operators were authorised to allow transmission from their network to more than one TV channel”.
In their communications to Pemra, the cable operators had taken the stand that they had suspended the transmission because of the law and order situation in the city for which they had also approached the local police.
The bench ordered the Pemra chairman and the chief executive officers of the four cable operators to appear on Aug 17 and explain why the apex court had been misguided that law and order situation had forced them to block the broadcast.