A day after Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) slapped Geo News with a 15-day blackout and a Rs10 million fine for maligning the Inter-Services Intelligence, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif voiced dissatisfaction over the size of the penalty and vowed to fight the case in court.
“The defence ministry is absolutely not satisfied with the penalty awarded by Pemra to Geo after it was found guilty of misconduct. We reserve the right to take up the matter at the next appellate level for enhancement of punishment awarded to Geo,” says the minister’s office in an official statement issued on Saturday.
Pemra’s decision had coincided with the publication of a front-page story in dailies Jang and The News – owned by the Geo/Jang Group – in which the channel’s management said that it has sent a defamation notice to the government, ISI and defence ministry and sought Rs50 billion in damages.
“We are ready and anxiously waiting to reply to the suit filed by Geo… [We are] fully prepared to defend the charges levelled by Geo against the defence ministry and ISI in the court of law,” the statement quoted the defence minister as saying. A defence ministry official told The Express Tribune that “although the minister issued the statement in his personal capacity, detailed consultations with the ISI and concerned military officials have yet to take place”. According to military sources, the minister has described Pemra’s decision as “too late and too lax”. And this is why he intends to seek an extension in the Geo News penalty.
Military sources say that “Pemra appears to be biased in favour of Geo TV which has been fined Rs10 million for maligning the defence institution – while the channel has filed a Rs50 billion defamation suit against the defence ministry and ISI, notwithstanding that the channel has publicly admitted that its coverage of the April 19 attack on anchor Hamid Mir was “excessive, distressful and emotional”.
In its nearly eight-hour special transmission, Geo News blamed the ISI and its chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam for being behind the Hamid Mir attack. Military sources say that the “hidden hand behind the ongoing organised campaign against the army and ISI must be unmasked”.
On Friday, Pemra suspended the licence of Geo News for 15 days and imposed a Rs10 million fine against it amid a warning that it could revoke the broadcaster’s licence in case of repeated violations. The decision was taken at a Pemra meeting chaired by its interim chief Parvez Rathore. The meeting, which was attended by the government members, was held to decide a complaint filed by the defence ministry against Geo News for defaming the ISI and its chief for eight hours.
Separately, the appointment of Pervez Rathore as acting chairman of Pemra was challenged in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) by two private members of the authority Israr Abbasi and Fareeha Iftikhar. Rathore was appointed by the government on June 5 against a position that had been since April, this year following the removal of Pemra chairman Chaudhry Rashid Ahmed by the government.
Citing the information ministry, secretary establishment and acting Pemra chairman as respondents, the petitioners said the government has appointed Rathore as an acting chairman despite the fact that there is no provision of acting chairman in the Pemra Ordinance, therefore the appointment is against the rules of Pemra.
The petitioners said that on June 6, the acting chairman convened a meeting which was also illegal because he had no authority to conduct a meeting. In this meeting the licence of Geo News was suspended for 15 days. Pemra had issued show-cause notices to the private members which were subsequently suspended by the IHC and the matter is pending in the court.
The petitioners asked the court to declare Rathore’s appointment null and void. Justice Noorul Haq Qureshi will take up the matter on June 9 (Monday).
Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2014.