ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued notices to the ministry of information and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on Wednesday in petitions filed against a move by cable operators to either remove Geo TV from their lists of channels or to relegate it.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah, who heard identical petitions filed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmakers Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal as well as legislators from the JUI-F and Jamaat-i-Islami, directed their counsel Barrister Zafarullah Khan to remove the name of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman from the list of respondents since he had nothing to do with the placement of a television channel on cable.
Barrister Jahangir Khan Jadoon had earlier stressed that fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution were being violated.
He had further argued that since the federal government was now dictating terms to Pemra, the regulator’s independence stood compromised. “It is the case of the petitioners that Pemra has failed to discharge its statutory obligations and to protect freedom of expression.”
Justice Minallah directed the Pemra chairman “to nominate an authorised officer to appear before this court on the next date of hearing. Moreover, as a regulator the authority shall ensure that any complaint regarding interference with the transmission of its licensee shall be removed before the date fixed.
“The authorised officer shall satisfy this court on the date fixed that the authority is fulfilling its statutory obligations as an independent regulator by safeguarding the constitutional rights of the licensee as well as the general public.”
The hearing was adjourned to March 24.
The petitioner argued before the court that the government, in an attempt to victimise Geo channel, had arrested its chief executive officer, Mir Shakilur Rehman, through NAB and then used Pemra to silence the news network.
He requested the court to order Pemra to restore the channel to the number where it was before the arrest of Shakilur Rehman.
The petition said Mir Shakilur Rehman was arrested on orders of the NAB chairman, who “abused the statutory powers of arrest granted to the bureau under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999”. The petitioners also referred to an order given by the IHC on March 8 in which the court had set parameters and guidelines for NAB regarding arrest of the accused.
The petition alleged that before Mir Shakil’s arrest, the authorities had warned the channel’s management against airing programmes critical of the government.
“There is no legal basis for issuing the arrest warrant as the accused (Mir Shakil) is not a fugitive nor a terrorist nor a wanted criminal,” the petition added.
“He is the head of the biggest and a well-reputed media house in Pakistan who was fully cooperating with NAB and furthermore, it was merely a second call-up notice for complaint verification as the proceedings had not been converted into Enquiry or Investigation stage.
“It appears that the arrest by NAB is motivated to curb free media when we see it in the light of show-cause notices issued by Pemra on behalf of NAB.”