Monday December 11, 2023

PM wants Pemra to withdraw 500 cases. Here is why

December 06, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Almost a month ago, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi urged Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to withdraw cases where stays have been granted to different TV channels against the fine imposed by the regulator.

He had a reason to say this. As of to-date, there are more than 500 cases pending with different courts of Pemra alone, let alone other government departments and private citizens. There are TV channels without licences operating just on the stay orders and anchors who got stay on the show-cause notices issued to them for violating the code of conduct. Those slapped fines are apart from them.

Withdraw the cases instead of adding more burden on the public exchequer under the head of litigation fee, the PM had said. He sounded disappointed echoing the widespread frustration on slow-moving wheel of justice.

Abbasi remarked this after he came to know of the volume of pending litigation. The highest number of them are pending with Lahore High Court (158), followed by Sindh High Court (137), Islamabad High Court (121), Supreme Court of Pakistan (37), lower courts (51), Peshawar High Court (8) and with other courts.

The Pemra which had been shy of regulating TV channels under bureaucratic heads, started asserting itself after the appointment of a seasoned journalist, Absar Alam, as its chairman. Although he has made many enemies in the media community when he tried to discipline them, he remains undeterred. While he faces media trial for going after the anchors who consider themselves above the law while teaching moral lessons to others, the biggest challenge is from the litigation side.

More than Rs75 million fine has been imposed on different TV channels in the last two years for violating the code of conduct in different talk shows and news coverage reporting. The Pemra can only impose fine or defend its decision when a court is moved against its verdict whereas the fine is deposited to the federal government.

The major challenge emerges when the regulator’s decision is challenged. The channels facing penalty hire expensive lawyers whereas the Pemra has to rely on junior lawyers to fight cases in hundreds. It has allocated Rs20million each year for the litigation which stands nowhere in comparison to the funds available with profit-making media houses. Eventually, it can neither engage expensive lawyers nor they are eager to contest a case against a media group as they fear a backlash in the form of negative publicity.

Although judiciary has decided several cases upholding the penalty imposed by the regulator, most of them were related to the judiciary. In one case, an anchor’s program was banned for 45 days after he scandalized a sitting high court chief justice. The court upheld the decision. In another case, a talk show was suspended for a week after the host aired misleading information against higher judiciary. The regulator’s decision was upheld.

These verdicts are in contrast with the cases where even show cause notices issued to channels for unqualified criticism of army were granted stay orders. In another instance, a channel was allowed to continue on a stay order, notwithstanding the fact that Pemra revoked its licence as it could not get security clearance. Almost a year has passed since its transmission continues unhindered on the stay order. The Pemra refused the conversion of license from entertainment to the news of another channel of the same group, hence it is broadcasting mere on the stay order. The Pemra rules do not allow such type of conversion, nevertheless, a precedent has been set to hide behind the stay order no matter there is a show-cause notice, fine or licensing issue.