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PAKISTAN: SHC restrains Pemra on satellite TV issue

The Sindh High Court restrained the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority on Friday from finalizing the process of granting licences for satellite TV broadcast stations on an application moved by the Pakistan Herald Publications Limited

Dawn
Saturday, March 13, 2004

The Sindh High Court restrained the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority on Friday from finalizing the process of granting licences for satellite TV broadcast stations on an application moved by the Pakistan Herald Publications Limited.

Submitted in a writ petition filed by the PHPL, the application said Rule 17 (V) of the Pemra Rules, 2002, and the requirement of cross-media affidavit barring print media owners from operating a cable TV station was ultra vires of the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 18 (freedom of trade and profession), 19 (freedom of expression) and 25 (equality of citizens) of the Constitution and the provisions of the parent ordinance of 2002.

It was also repugnant to the new policy announced by the federal government in February 2003 and the worldwide print media trend to disseminate news through internet and terrestrial and non-terrestrial cable and beaming systems simultaneously.

The application came up for consideration as a division bench comprising Justices Anwar Zaheer Jamali and S. Ali Aslam Jafri commenced preliminary hearing of the writ petition. Advocates Muneer A. Malik and Ziaul Haq Makhdoom appeared for the petitioner and Deputy Attorney-General Nadeem Azhar Siddiqui for the federation.

The federal attorney requested time to file parawise comments/counter-affidavit. Allowing the request, the bench adjourned the hearing of the petition to March 18. Notice in the application for interim relief was issued for the same date. In the meanwhile, the Pemra was restrained from finalizing the grant of TV station licence/s. Besides, Pemra the federal government has been impleaded as a respondent through its information secretary.

The petitioners, publishers of Dawn, Herald, Star and three other periodicals, said Section 19 of the Pemra Ordinance empowers the authority to grant TV station licences through an 'open and transparent bidding process'. Section 23 (2) requires Pemra to ensure that 'undue concentration of media ownership is not created in any city, town or area and the country as a whole' by virtue of the licensee owning, as a sole or joint proprietor, any other broadcast or TV station, newspaper or magazine.

Rule 17 (V) of the Pemra Rules formulated under the ordinance, however, peremptorily and categorically prohibits print media publishers from owning a cable TV network. The application forms furnished to the prospective licensees also require them to file 'cross-media affidavits'. The petition said both the rule and the requirement were violative of the Constitution and the ordinance.

It also referred to a federal government policy decision published on February 20, 2003, assuring that the bar on the print media had been done away with. Yet the rule was not amended and the Pemra solicited applications for TV station licences in January 2004 under the unchanged rules. February 28 was fixed as the last date for submitting applications.

The petition cited examples of joint ownership of print and electronic media the world over and said a channel owned by a Pakistani publisher was already operating in the country from Dubai (UAE).

Asia Institute