Cable operators can’t block any channel on their own: SHC

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KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday observed that cable operators had no right to close the transmission of any channel on their own.

Hearing identical petitions filed by the Independent Media Corporation (IMC) against non-restoration of Geo News transmission after the lapse of the suspension order of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), the SHC’s division bench, headed by Justice Munib Akhtar, observed that this matter was not about mere closure of the transmission of any channel but an issue of the freedom of the Press and fundamental rights.

The court directed Pemra to ensure enforcement of rights relating to the freedom of the Press and expression as it was not a matter of restoration of Geo TV transmission but enforcement of the fundamental rights and implementation of the Constitution.

Petitioner’s counsel Jam Asif Mehmood submitted in the petitions that Pemra had ordered its regional managers to restore the transmission of Geo News on June 20 after the expiry of the suspension order imposed by the regulator on Geo TV on June 6.

He said that private cable operators did not comply with the orders of Pemra, and broadcast of the Geo News remained suspended till the filing of the petition. He submitted that blocking the transmission of the Geo News was a violation of the Supreme Court and High Court’s orders that restrained Pemra and cable operators from blocking or interfering in the smooth transmission of Geo News.

The counsel submitted that Pemra had failed to take action against the cable operators who despite the complaint of the petitioner and restoration order for transmission of Geo TV did not restore the transmission on its position as it was on April 19.

To a court query as to what action had been taken for restoration of Geo News transmission, which is the most popular news channel of the country, Pemra’s counsel Kashif Hanif submitted that the media regulator had started taking action by issuing show cause notices to cable operators who were not allowing transmission of the Geo channels or changing their numbers on their network. He sought time to file comments in the matter.

Counsel of the cable operators Amjad Bukhari submitted that the matter could be resolved on the basis of the Supreme Court orders in certain proceedings and sought time to file relevant record in this regard before the court. He submitted that cable operators were not bound under the Pemra Ordinance to telecast the transmission of any channel as per their choice. The court inquired the counsel of cable operators as to how 90 percent people could access to information when cable operators shut the transmission of any TV channel, observing that cable operators had no authority to close the transmission of any channel as per their wishes.

The court observed that the freedom of Press, as an expressed fundamental right, inheres not only in the Press but also in every citizen of the country with regard to right of citizens to be properly informed as regard matters that could be of public importance or interest, whether it is local, provincial or national level.

The court observed that Article 199 empowers the high court to give such direction as deems appropriate for the enforcement of the fundamental rights and such directions could be given not merely to the State but also to any other person as in view of High Court is necessary for such enforcement.

The court observed that the question of the fundamental right of the freedom of the Press, especially in digital and internet age and with regard to the modern mean of the communication which continue to rapidly develop and evolve, the matter could not be limited to or addressed in what might be regarded as traditional modes.

The court observed that courts can and should take into account the manner the news is disseminated in the present time and how this process will develop and evolve in the future. The court observed that it seems that now most Pakistanis, primarily or exclusively, rely on their access to TV channels, including news channels, through the network run by the cable operators, therefore, the right power or ability of such operators to give access to channels on their network may well engage or raise issues of the fundamental right of the freedom of the Press.

The court was of the view that issues raised in the Geo TV petitions may to that extent and in the sense even transcend the mere enforcement of statutory enforcements even if the statute in the question is the one that provides the regulatory framework that is Pemra Act and regulation framed thereunder. The court also issued a notice to the Attorney General of Pakistan as constitutional interpretation arises in the instant matter. The counsel of the petitioner sought early hearing of the petitions as the channel could bank default due to continuous closure of the Geo TV transmission.

The court directed the counsel of the respondents to file their respective comments so that matter could be proceeded and decided on the next date of hearing that was fixed on August 6.

President of Jang Publication Employees Union CBA Shakeel Yameen, Secretary of The News Employees Union CBA Naqeebur Rehman and reporter of the Geo TV Jawad Shoaib filed the application for becoming interveners in the petitions submitting that the cable operators be directed to restore the transmission of Geo TV as thousands of employees had been affected due to the closure of the transmission of Geo TV by the cable operators. However, the court observed that the counsel for the petitioner and respondents can assist the court on similar points. Therefore, no notices were being issued unless expressly permitted or directed by the court.

Cable operators, including Skyline Cable Network (Pvt) Ltd., Mohammad Hussain of Tracks Entertainment Cable TV Network, Kazim (Acting CEO) of Media Plus Cable TV Network, Syed Imran Haider Abidi of Home Vision-1 Communication, Gufran Mujtaba of City Communication, Akhlaq Ahmed of Karachi Cable Services Cable TV Network and Mehmood Ahmed of City Cable TV Communication Network, were named as respondents in the petitions.

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