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IHC allows Geo to telecast Ehsanullah’s interview

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May 13, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad High Court (IHC) has allowed an appeal of the IMCL against Pemra's letter of April 27 banning broadcast of Ehsanullah Ehsan's interview for Geo TV programme Jirga here on Friday.

Justice Aamer Farooq of the IHC in his order noted, "For the reasons set out above the instant appeal is allowed, impugned order dated 27-4-2017 is set aside with observations that in case the programme to be broadcast by appellant on Geo Network violates either code of conduct or section 27 of the ordinance or any other provision of the ordinance, Pemra may proceed against it in accordance with law". 

IHC bench reserved its judgment on May 8 that was announced Friday. Independent Media Corporation Pvt Ltd (IMCL) in its appeal had challenged Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) imposing a ban on the broadcast of Ehsanullah Ehsan's interview in Saleem Safi programme Jirga. Saleem Safi was also an appellant in this appeal. Legal counsel for Pemra had argued before the court that under the relevant laws, Pemra is authorised to take action against the programmes that the authority feels objectionable. Pemra's counsel had requested the court to dismiss IMCL appeal. At this IMCL counsel Jam Asif said that his client had been condemned unheard and not afforded an opportunity of hearing. This matter should have been referred to the Pemra's Council of Complaints that has discretionary powers and not Pemra.

IHC bench in its judgment noted, "The upshot of the above mentioned factual and legal position is that, in case the appellant broadcast any programme which violates the terms of the code of conduct 2015 or the provision of the ordinance, rules and regulations framed thereunder, proceeding may be initiated by IMCL under section 29(6) of the ordinance which requires issuance of show cause and opportunity of hearing. However if with respect to any programme aired by the licencee, there are public complaints, the matter should be referred to the Council of Complaints under section 26 of the ordinance which after providing an opportunity to the licencee to render explanation can make recommendations to Pemra in case there is violation of code of conduct or the ordinance etc, for initiation of appropriate action against the licencee. However the sole provision under which pemra can prohibit broadcasting of any programme is section 27 ibid, however, the same can only be done if the reasons/grounds mentioned in section 27-A and 27-B are attracted, the reasons are to be record in writing for imposition of prohibition".

During arguments in this matter IMCL counsels Jam Asif and Faisal Iqbal advocates had adopted that Pemra adopted a completely illegal mechanism and instead of issuing notice to Geo TV it issued a press release. Justice Aamer Farooq when questioned Pemra's counsel about the press release, he said that the press release was the order in fact.

At this Justice Farooq had questioned Pemra's counsel if this was Pemra way to issue orders.

IMCL in its appeal had said that it is one of the largest media conglomerates that own several newspapers and television channels known as Jang/Geo Group and bears phenomenal reputation, credibility and acceptability in the public.

That on April 26, 2017 Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) issued a confessional statement of detained Ehsanullah Ehsan who was a spokesperson for the proscribed terrorist organisations of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jamatul Ahrar (JA). Objective and purpose of the broadcast of the said confessional statement was to reveal the true face of TTP-JA, to disclose funding and support from enemy countries, to boost morale of the countrymen who immensely suffered through terrorist activities, to convey a message to the nation that these terrorists were on the run and to convey message to the terrorist that their days were numbered.

Formerly, statements of Uzair Baloch, Saulat Mirza, Kalbhushan Yadav and recently of Naureen Leghari were broadcast on media. That the broadcast of such confessional statements also comes under the ambit of article 19-A and Pemra Ordinance 2002. It is important to note that Pemra never objected to the broadcast of such confessional statements.

In furtherance of the objectives stated above, ISPR provided opportunity to anchor Saleem Safi to interview Ehsanullah Ehsan to further elaborate the confessional statement. Appellant Number 2 Saleem Safi with the fullest cooperation of the ISPR recorded interview of Ehsan for his programme Jirga. After recording, interview was thoroughly reviewed/edited by the authorities and editorial committee of appellant consisting of very serious journalists. It was after approval of the ISPR that appellant released promo of the programme Jirga informing general public about the interview. To utter shock and dismay of the appellant, Pemra on April 27, issued a letter under section 27 of the Pemra ordinance and imposed a ban on the broadcast of the interview. In the said letter Pemra referred to the Clause 3 (3) of the electronic media (programmes and advertisements) code of conduct 2015, for taking it such draconian, illegal and drastic action of banning the broadcast of said programme. 

Appellant on April 28 sent its response to Pemra requesting to lift the ban.

Appellant after receiving no reply, sent another letter while saying that under section 27 of Pemra respondent cannot impose a ban without following the due process that if providing opportunity of hearing to the appellant. And a recorder programme comes within the exception of Clause 3 (3) of the electronic media (programmes and advertisements) code of conduct 2015. Under this clause "statements of proscribed organisations or their representatives shall not be aired unless such statement is an admission which may be in the larger public interest for exposing ideology, abuse of religion, barbarianism provided always that such broadcast does not in any way aid, abet, glorify or give excuse to their mean and ways in any shape and form".

The appellant even shared the link with the respondent to review the programme. That Pemra's letter is violation of the section 24-A of the general clauses act and against articles 4, 5, 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.

While issuing this letter Pemra did not consider the fact that Ehsan has been under the custody of Army and his interview recorded with their approval. Shockingly Pemra took the appellant's letter as an insult and replied through a press conference.

Appellant had prayed to the court to set aside Pemra's letter and restrain the authority from taking any coercive action against the appellant. IHC bench allowed IMCL appeal and disposed of.