Worst-ever confrontation with judiciary by cable operators, hidden backers

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ISLAMABAD: After the complete and shocking failure of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to get the transmission of Geo News restored despite the clear and strict judgment of the Supreme Court and inaction of the authority against the cable operators, Geo has written a letter directly to all the cable operators, pressing them not to ridicule the orders of the Supreme Court.

In its letter, Geo has reminded all the cable operators that though Pemra has conveniently failed to get the orders of the apex court implemented, the cable operators themselves were also violating the terms of their licence by first shuffling the Geo News number and later suspending the transmission.

The channel has reminded all the cable operators that suspending the transmission of a channel was the worst violation of the Constitution and law and after the SC verdict it was tantamount to making a mockery of the institutions and the state.

Regarding the cable operators’ claim about threats to them, it is also stated that the cable operators have been either blacking out the Geo channels or shifting them to the furthest numbers since April 24, but they have never contacted the police or the authorities concerned with proof. They never gave the police any phone number from where the threats were received. The cable operators were also reminded that when in the past they changed Geo position, the Supreme Court issued strict orders to them, Pemra and the government to set the things right.

Geo has highlighted that due to mysterious reasons, the cable operators were openly confronting the apex court and were punishing the Geo/Jang Group for taking its case to the Supreme Court to get justice after operators across the country blocked the transmission of all other channels of the group, including Geo Super, Geo Tez, Geo Kahani and Geo Entertainment.

This attitude of cable operators and hidden forces backing them is the worst example of confronting the judiciary.The letter was sent to all the cable operators and also copied to Pemra, all members of the authority and the Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting by the legal counsel for Geo Faraz Raza.

The relevant portions of the letter are reproduced here:

1. For the last several weeks, you have been violating the terms of your license by deliberately and illegally first shuffling the channel from its normal position and then completely suspending the transmission of Geo News.

2. Our client repeatedly reported your violation of license to Pemra, requesting that Pemra must take immediate steps to have transmission of Geo News restored but Pemra illegally in violation of its statutory obligation, failed to get Geo News transmission restored at its previous position.

3. Your continued violation of your license, and Pemra’s illegal omission to have Geo News transmission restored, left our client with no option but to approach the Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan with the grievance that Pemra is not implementing the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court of 2010 in which, relying on the Court’s appointed Mediator Mr. Javed Jabbar’s Report, Honourable Supreme Court had directed Pemra to ensure that two channels Geo News and ARY News were not shuffled from their current position.

4. On 26.05.2014, the honourable Supreme Court disposed off our client’s petition on the basis of Pemra’s counsel Mr. Ibrahim Satti and Pemra’s Head Legal Department Mr. Zahid Malik, undertaking that Pemra “shall abide by the terms of order dated 13.08.2012 passed in Constitution Petition No.51 of 2010, by which the report of Mr. Javed Jabbar, the Mediator, was made part of the said order and that the Pemra will ensure that there is no shifting of the channels contrary to or in violation of the order dated 13.08.2012.”

5. It may be noted that the illegal so-called order supposedly passed by three members of Pemra, preceded the hearing of our client’s petition in the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Neither Pemra accepted the so-called decision of three private members, nor did Pemra or any anyone else bring it to the Honourable Court’s attention at the time of hearing and the order of Honourable Supreme Court does not even mention the illegal meeting of three private members who have been announcing their decision on rival TV channels.

6. You therefore have absolutely no excuse to disobey the clear orders of Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan.

7. However, it is shocking to note that despite the above clear direction of Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan, you still continue to keep Geo News ‘transmission suspended without realising that it is not only illegal and a clear violation of your license, but now it amounts to contempt of court too’.

8. For your easy reference, we are producing below certain relevant excerpts of the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan on a petition filed by our client and that was clubbed with a petition of ARY News, titled Shahid Masood versus The Federation of Pakistan and published PLD 2010 SCMR 1849, that the Supreme Court has now directed to be implemented:

“11. Such was then the importance attached to the obligations, inter alia, cast on the Cable T.V. Network Operators offering the distribution of services and the importance attached to the undisturbed distribution of the said services by such operators. It would also be noticed from the said provisions that:

(iii) the license of any such operator causing any interference/obstruction in the distribution of any broadcast could result in suspension or even revocation of the license granted to such an operator;’ and

(iv) such an act of interference and obstruction was also a penal offence carrying a sentence of imprisonment up to three years or a fine of rupees ten million or both and such an offence was a cognizable offence authorizing the police to arrest the accused persons without any warrant. [emphasis provided]

The reason for such weight being attached to the said business is not far to find as the same stems out of the fundamental rights of freedom of speech, expression and of press as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution and equally importantly, if not more, the right of every citizen to have access to information in all matters of public importance as guaranteed by the recently inserted provisions of Article 19-A of the Constitution.

13. In this view of the matter, we find that the act of the respondent Operators of the Cable T.V. Networks blocking/obstructing the transmission of ARY News and GEO News and the consequent denial of distribution service to the said Channels and to the viewers who were paying the said operators for the said service, prima facie, was a gross violation of the terms and conditions of the licenses granted to them under sections 20 and 24 read with the provisions of sections 27 and 28 of the said Ordinance of 2002 and thus attracted penal provisions of sections 30 and 33 of the said Ordinance in respect of not only the ones committing the said violations but also those abetting the same. [Emphasis provided].

15. … … … The said blockade, prima facie, was not only a denial of duty towards the law, towards Pemra and towards the two broadcasters, but was also a serious breach of the constitutional, legal, moral and financial obligations of the cable operators in question to the hundreds and thousands of subscribers who had the right to information and who had paid for their right to viewership. … … …

17. Having thus examined the factual, the legal and even the constitutional aspects of the matter; the factually incorrect claims being made before us and the consequent legal violations, it is ordered, for the present, as under:

(i) …. Pemra shall ensure immediate distribution of broadcast services of Pemra licensed channels, namely, ARY News and GEO News, even if the same involves strict legal action against the delinquent cable T.V. operators, if any;

(ii) … Pemra shall personally monitor and ensure that the transmission of the broadcast of the said two channels i.e. ARY News and GEO News is continued to be aired without any hindrance or obstruction of whatever kind.”

9. It is in view of above clear directions of Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan that we call upon you to immediately restore transmission of Geo News on its original position at which you were showing it a month ago.

10. As, despite above clear direction of Supreme Court of Pakistan, you have illegally continued to keep Geo News off air, Pemra was required by the statute as well as under the above-quoted direction of Supreme Court to not only proceed with formalities to suspend and then revoke your license, but also to prosecute you for the offence of causing obstruction in the broadcasting of Geo News. Unfortunately, to-date, Pemra has failed to do either of the above.

11. This letter is being copied to Pemra and Ministry of Information. In case Pemra still fails to have Geo News’ transmission restored, our client shall have no option but to approach the Honourable Court for appropriate actions that may be available under law against any person who may be committing the offence of disobeying clear orders of Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan or being party to an effort not to allow the Court’s order to be implemented.

12. In addition to what has been stated in this letter, it is shocking to discover that instead of complying with the direction of Honourable Supreme Court by restoring the transmission of Geo News to its original position, as if in order to punish us for approaching Supreme Court for relief or to show extra contempt to Honorable Court, you have illegally suspended the remaining channels of Geo TV network too, namely Geo Tez, Geo Kahani, Geo Entertainment and Geo Super. There could not be worse example of showing contempt to the Honorable Court.

13. Suspension of all our channels is causing huge losses to Geo TV network on a daily basis for which, apart from other legal remedies against you, we shall seek compensation from you for the financial damages that you are causing to our client by illegally suspending all the channels of Geo TV network.

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Worst-ever confrontation with judiciary by cable operators, hidden backers

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