ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) formed on Wednesday a three-member committee to investigate charges levelled by the defence ministry against Geo TV for what it called “maligning the premier spy agency of the country and harming the national interest” in its coverage of the attack on senior journalist Hamid Mir, a Pemra official told Dawn.

The authority also issued notices to the TV channel’s administration in Karachi asking its chief executive officer and other senior staff members to appear before the committee by May 6.

The committee, consisting of Syed Ismail Shah, Pervez Rathore and Israr Abbasi, will review the application against Geo and apprise the Pemra board of the facts of the case.

The official said the charges against Geo TV were ‘quite serious’ and the channel would be given the opportunity to fully explain its position.

On Tuesday, the defence ministry had moved Pemra to take action against Geo TV for levelling allegations against Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and accusing its chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam of being involved in the attack on Mir in Karachi.

The complaint had been initiated following approval from Defence Minister Khawaja Asif under sections 33 and 36 of the Pemra Ordinance 2002 to take legal action against the channel’s management for attempting to frame the ISI and its chief for Saturday’s attack.

Legality

However, legal experts believe that Pemra is not in a position to adjudicate on such an application as the office of Pemra chairman has been vacant since the dismissal of Chaudhry Rashid. The authority consists of the chairman and 12 members and in the absence of the chairman, Pemra cannot legally take major decisions, including the suspension and cancellation of licences of private TV channels.

In the absence of a chairman, the authority’s affairs are being managed by a three-member committee. But the validity of this committee has already been challenged in the Islamabad High Court.

Section 6 of the Pemra Ordinance reads: “The authority shall consist of a chairman and 12 members to be appointed by the president.”

“The committee was constituted in an unlawful manner and in sheer breach of Section 13 of the Pemra Ordinance,” lawyer Arfat Ahmed, who is a specialist in matters relating to Pemra, told Dawn.

He said the formation of the committee was in conflict with the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Dr Abdul Jabbar case.

Section 13, which relates to the delegation of powers, reads: “The authority may, by general or special order, delegate to the chairman or a member or any member of its staff, or an expert, consultant, adviser, or other officer or employee of the authority any of its powers, responsibilities or functions under this ordinance subject to such conditions as it may be rules prescribe… provided that the delegation of such powers shall not include the power to grant, revoke or cancel a broadcast media or distribution service licence except cable TV.”