Wednesday June 19, 2024

SC dismisses Axact channel’s plea against fine for vilifying Jang Group

By Sohail Khan
October 15, 2022

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal of Axact’s Bol TV channel against the imposition of fines by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) — a decision earlier upheld by the Islamabad High Court — for airing content having the effect of encouraging violence, terrorism, racial, religious or ethnic discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy and hatred etc and levelling serious allegations against Jang Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman.

A two-member bench of the apex court, comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsen and Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi, heard the appeal of M/S Labaik Private Limited (Bol Channel) against the decision of the Islamabad High Court (ICT).

The court dismissed the appeal and held that the Pemra Chairman has all powers, including cancellation of a licence. The court further held that the learned Islamabad High Court had dismissed all the appeals filed against the fines imposed by the regulator after examining all the aspects as well as sections of the Pemra Ordinance.

During the course of hearing, counsel for the petitioner submitted that the regulator (Pemra) had wrongly imposed a fine on Bol Channel on Dec 8, 2017, adding that the regulator was not bound to implement the recommendations of the Council of Complaints.

The counsel further submitted that the recommendations are required to be put before the board for final approval and then the decision is taken in view of the majority decision.

“The Council of Complaints, however, directly asked us to comply with the directions, which is against the law,” the counsel submitted, adding that the learned high court, while ignoring this aspect of the matter, dismissed the appeals of the petitioner.

Pemra’s legal head Tahir Farooqi Tarar and Barrister Haroon, while appearing before the court, submitted that under Section 13 of the Pemra Ordinance 2002, powers pertaining to cancellation of a licence and others had been given by the authority to the Pemra chairman on July 31 2007.

They further submitted that the petitioner was informed by the competent authority about the Pemra decision and also intimated that the decision was issued with the approval of the competent authority as well.

Meanwhile, the apex court, after hearing the parties, dismissed the appeals of the petitioner, Labaik Private Limited (Bol Channel), filed against the order of the Islamabad High Court.

The court in its order held that there was no denial of the facts that the Council of Complaints had issued a show cause notice, heard the petitioner and decided against it, having found that certain contents had been aired by the petitioner channel which contained language which had the effect of encouraging violence, terrorism, racial, religious or ethnic discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy and hatred etc.

The court noted down in its order that the said recommendations were sent to the Pemra where they were examined by the competent authority, namely the Chairman, who, through an exercise of his delegated powers, approved the recommendations to the effect that a fine of Rs200,000 be imposed on the petitioner.

“The language of the letter is clear and unambiguous that the recommendations of the Council of Complaints have been approved by the competent authorities, i.e., the Chairman of Pemra ,” the court held.

The court also found that the chairman had the requisite authority on the basis of the minutes of the 44th meeting of the authority held on July 21, 2007, at the Pemra headquarters, Islamabad, which categorically and unanimously delegated all powers vesting in the authority except those relating to suspension, cancellation, or revocation of a licence of a licensee to the chairman.

The court further held that the argument of learned counsel for the petitioner that the delegation of powers could not have been made across the board in view of the provisions of section 8 of the Ordinance, 2002, has not impressed it.

The court noted that a combined reading of Section 8 and 13 of the Ordinance 2002 leaves it in no manner of doubt that all powers except a suspension, cancellation or revocation of a licence have been delegated to the chairman and the reasons for the same have also been assigned in the minutes of the meeting referred to.

The court further held that the learned high court has examined all aspects of the matter and come to conclusions which are duly supported by the relevant provisions of law and the rules framed there under.

“Consequently, we find that no ground for the grant of leave to appeal in the matter has been made out.” The petitions were accordingly dismissed, the court held and refused leave to appeal.

Earlier, the Islamabad High Court had upheld the fine imposed Pemra, rejecting the channel’s appeal. The court had observed that charges like sacrilege, treason etc could threaten lives of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, anchors, as serious allegations like sacrilege and treachery encourage hate, violence.