LONDON: A Pakistani television channel could become the first-ever channel in the United Kingdom ordered to broadcast the summary of a legal judgement against it. At a legal hearing in London on Wednesday, Judge Sir David Eady ruled that the summary should be broadcast on Dec 23 (Friday) at 6pm, 10pm and 3am in the first five minutes of each hour. The words will have to be displayed on the screen as well as being read out.

The ARY will have to say in Urdu: “On Dec 2, 2016, the High Court of Justice ordered the UK broadcaster of ARY News... to pay £185,000 in libel damages to Mir Shakilur Rehman, the Editor-in-Chief of Jang/Geo Group, in relation to seriously defamatory allegations broadcast in 24 programmes which the judge said simply had no foundation. The court held that the broadcasts were unrelenting and calculated to arouse hatred towards Mir Shakilur Rehman (and indeed quite possibly violence) among members of the Pakistani community in this jurisdiction.”

The channel must also broadcast that there was no evidence to support the claims and that during the trial, ARY Network made it clear they did not suggest that any of the allegations were true.

The ARY has appealed against the order and the outcome of that appeal is not yet known. Depending on when the result of the appeal is known, the date of the on-air correction may be delayed.

“I am glad that ARY will now finally broadcast one true story about us,” said Mir Ibrahim Rehman after the judgement was given. “I am proud that rather than replying in kind, the largest media group in the country resorted to the rule of law instead. We sued ARY in over 15 cases in Pakistan and one case in the UK.”

The latest ruling against ARY came after it was told earlier this month to pay £185,000 for libelling Geo’s Chief Executive Mir Shakilur Rehman. The money has to be paid by 4.30pm on Jan 4 next year.

When legal costs are taken into account ARY’s total bill is likely to be closer to £3m. Of that amount, £900,000 has to be paid by 4.30pm on Jan 11.

Lawyers for Mir Shakilur Rehman identified ARY programmes in which he had been libeled between 2013 and 2014. The broadcasts included repeated claims that he was a traitor to Pakistan who had conspired with Indian intelligence agencies and the CIA to publish fabricated stories maligning Pakistan’s armed forces.

The channel said Mir Shakilur Rehman should have no right to live in Pakistan and that his company should be stripped of its broadcasting licence. ARY even accused him of blasphemy and of desecrating the holy Quran.

The ARY has also been told it must not repeat any of the allegations. It has been restrained from broadcasting anything saying Mir Shakilur Rehman is a traitor, or is disloyal to Pakistan, or has behaved treacherously, or has committed treason or that he is guilty of blasphemy, or desecration of the holy Quran.

“This ground-breaking case has shown that broadcasters cannot get away with transmitting completely false allegations. And if they do, they can be ordered to broadcast a summary of the judgement against them,” said Alasdair Pepper of Carter Ruck, a London libel law firm which has been representing Mir Shakilur Rehman. “It’s a good day for people trying to protect their reputation from unfounded attacks.”

The order that ARY must publish the summary of the judgement against it is a first under the Defamation Act of 2013. Most UK channels report adverse judgements and issue corrections before being ordered to do so by a judge.

‘Persistent abuse’

The judge in the case, Justice Sir David Eady, found that the Geo boss was “singled out for persistent abuse over a year-long period.” Explaining why he had decided on a relatively high amount of £185,000, he remarked: “The sum I am awarding should be enough to convince any fair-minded observer of the baselessness of these serious charges...”

A 2015 judgement, at an earlier stage of the legal battle between the two media houses, concluded after a close textual analysis of the ARY programmes that some of the claims against Mir Shakilur Rehman amounted to “trial by TV”.

At that stage lawyers acting for ARY had argued that their presenter, Mubasher Lucman, was known for his colourful delivery and clumsy remarks. A reasonable viewer, they argued, would take what he said with a pinch of salt. It was not a line of defence that found favour with the judge.

The ARY failed to produce any evidence to substantiate its claims and also did not apologise for making the remarks.

The case has been heard in British courts because ARY, like many other Urdu-language Pakistani channels, is available in the UK via satellite. The network has three channels in the UK.

The allegations against Mir Shakilur Rehman were broadcast on ARY News. It was estimated that the broadcasts reached tens of thousands of people in the United Kingdom.

The UK is a lucrative media market, given the 1.7 million people with Pakistani links living in the country.

Published in Dawn December 22nd, 2016



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