PEMRA move against Geo sparks another controversy

* Meeting of five members announces to suspend three licenses of Geo network * Authority’s official press release disowns decisions announced by the meeting

ISLAMABAD: A five-member committee of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on Tuesday suspended the broadcasting licences of three television stations owned by the Geo TV network and ordered immediate sealing of its offices.
The decision was taken at a meeting held at PEMRA office in Islamabad to review complaints filed against the Geo TV network for alleged blasphemy in the morning show of one of its entertainment channels and allegations by its news channel that the country’s premier spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) had orchestrated the attack on its anchorperson Hamid Mir in Karachi.
While talking to reporters, members of the committee said that the decision was taken unanimously. However, two-thirds of the committee’s members did not participate in the meeting, which was attended only by the private members, while the government representatives did not show up. “PEMRA has suspended the licences of Geo TV (Entertainment), Geo News and Geo Tez with immediate effect. We could have revoked the licences as the quorum was complete, however, we have adjourned the decision until May 28 for we want all the members to be present in that meeting,” said Israr Abbasi, a PEMRA member of the committee.
He added that the final decision to cancel the licences will be taken on May 28. He said that the owner of the Geo TV network, Mir Shakilur Rehman, had called PEMRA members in an attempt to influence the committee’s decision by offering bribes as well as making threats. The committee said that it has sent its recommendations for revocation of Geo’s licences to the Council of Complaints (CoC), and its response is expected in a week’s time.
Meanwhile, an official press release of PEMRA disowned the meeting and the decisions it took. “PEMRA disowns the decisions announced by the three members of PEMRA regarding cancellation of Geo’s licences. The majority authority members in 95th meeting held on May 9, 2014 had decided to refer the case to the Ministry of Law for legal opinion. The decision of seeking opinion from the Law Division was taken in all fairness to avoid any future legal consequences in such a critical issue,” the press release stated.
It said the complaint against Geo Entertainment was already referred to the Council of Complaints, Sindh. “The CoC in its meeting called today has already recommended about the status of Geo’s licence. The minutes of the CoC are awaited, and the authority would consider this matter in the next schedule meeting.” The press statement also clarified that Tuesday’s meeting was called without following the laid down procedures and thus had no legal standing. 
The statement clarified that according to PEMRA rules, the chairman or as the case may be, more than half of the total members can call the meeting i.e. out of twelve members at least seven can call a meeting. It said this was an informal meeting attended by five members. “The executive member was not even asked to officially convene the meeting and notify it through the secretary to the authority, which is the set procedure.” PEMRA said the meeting convened by these members is without any official intimation or invitation to other members in accordance with the procedure. “The authority’s committee is functioning and is exercising the power of chairman in day to day affairs and taking decisions with requisite quorum.”
The Islamabad High Court on Monday issued notices to information secretary, PEMRA chairman, ARY chief executive, anchors Mubashir Lucman, Nida Yasir, Shaista Lodhi, Amjad Sabri qawwal, poet Aqeel Mohsin Naqvi, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and Cable Operators Association of Pakistan chairman in connection with the Geo TV blasphemy case. The controversial show was aired last week by the Geo News network, which has been caught up in a struggle with the military following the shooting of anchorperson Hamid Mir who later accused the head of the ISI of being behind the attack.

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