LAHORE: The Lahore High Court remarked on Thursday that cable operators had no authority whatsoever to block any channel. Geo News was shut down in extraordinary circumstances, but the Supreme Court has ordered its restoration and the cable operators will have to follow the order of the top court.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan made these remarks while hearing a petition of the Independent Media Corporation against the closure of Geo News in violation of the SC order. He said the Supreme Court’s order was final and under the Constitution, every individual and institution was bound to adhere to it. The cable operators had no right to block or encrypt any channel. No one could deviate from the apex court’s order and if such a situation cropped up, the court would intervene to correct the situation, he said.
Geo News Lahore Bureau Chief Khawar Naeem Hashmi, Lahore Press Club Secretary Shahbaz Mian, Jang Workers Union President Rukhsana Nazli, Vice President Muhammad Arshad, General Secretary Wasim Babar and a large number of journalists were present in the courtroom.
The Jang Workers Union also moved an application to become a party in the case. However, the judge said the Jang Group had approached the court through a petition and its outcome would benefit its workers as well.
Geo News counsel Behzad Haider and Jam Asif Mehmood told the court that despite the SC order, the cable operators had not restored the Geo News to its old number. They said the cable operators were violating the apex court order and Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (Pemra) rules, but the authority had taken no action against them. They pointed out that the Geo News was running its transmission but the cable operators were not telecasting it. They said due to the non-airing of the channel on the cable network, it was getting no advertisement. If the Geo News was not restored on the cable network, it was likely that it would be bankrupt that would lead to the expulsion of thousands of its workers.
The counsel said the Sindh High Court had given a precise order to restore the Geo News to its old number and action should be taken against the cable operators declined to abide by the order. However, the Pemra was reluctant to take any action against them.
The court summoned the deputy attorney general on a short notice. DAG Riaz Qadeer appeared before the court and told it that the Pemra had initiated legal action against the cable operators who were not restoring the Geo News to its old number. He said show cause notices had been issued to the violators and they had been summoned on July 11. He requested the court to wait for the outcome of the Pemra meeting with the cable operators.
The Geo counsel said their grievance would not be addressed till the complete restoration of the Geo News transmission to its old number. They said the Pemra had ordered the closure of the Geo News and it was implemented at once. Now the order had been passed for its restoration and the same should also be enforced in letter and spirit with immediate effect.
A cable operators counsel told the court that 117 channels were running their transmission while the cable operators had a capacity to air only 96 channels including the PTV. In such a situation, how could it be determined that a specific channel should be run at a specific number?
At this, the court remarked that the Geo News should be restored to the number at which it was being run on April 19. Under the law, the cable operators had no authority whatsoever to broadcast a channel or block it whimsically. The court would also look into the SC order to determine whether the SC had made it imperative on the cable operators to run a specific channel at a specific number. Had the SC given the cable operators the power to block a channel? The court said and added it would also look into terms and conditions of licenses issued to the cable operators.
The DAG said it would become obvious on July 11 in a meeting with the cable operators whether they had violated the SC order and what punishment be awarded to them in case they were found guilty.
The Geo News counsel again said the Pemra should work strictly in accordance with the law without any fear or favour. The court, however, said let the Pemra hold the meeting with the cable operators and it might result in favour of the Geo News.
Khawar told the court the Geo News was not being seen in 50 per cent areas of Punjab and 80 per cent of Sindh, but the Pemra was sitting idle instead of initiating legal action against the violators. He said his organisation had lost confidence in the Pemra and expected no justice from it. He said the information minister announced that the Geo News had been restored but the ground realty was altogether different as the Pemra took no legal action against the cable operators violating the minister’s order. It was confusing that under whose authority the Pemra was working, he said.
He said workers were worried as they would face ouster and non-payment of salaries as the situation was deteriorating rapidly. The organisation could be shut down if the situation persisted too long. He said the right of freedom of speech was being stifled. He requested the court to take notice of the situation and take steps to safeguard the Geo News from closure. He said the Jang Group had no other forum, expect judiciary, to redress its grievance.
Civil Society representative Abdullah Malik said the Geo News issue was related to human rights as thousands of people were employed in the organisation and its closure would deprive them of their livelihood.
Senior Journalist Amin Hafeez said the court better knew about the modus operandi of the establishment and it should take action against it.The court said it would exercise its judicial power in case of injustice. The judge asked the petitioner to wait till the Pemra decision on July 11.The court adjourned the hearing till July 17 and sought the record of the July 11 meeting.