The Supreme Court on Monday summoned the editor-in-chief of Geo/Jang Group, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, to appear in court on Tuesday and explain why employees of his media group have not been paid for the past three months.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar issued the directions while hearing a case about the media commission, which was formed by the SC in 2013 to review major points of concern in mass media against the terms of references (ToRs) formulated by the court.
While addressing Geo TV’s anchorperson Hamid Mir, who was a petitioner in the media commission case, the CJP remarked that some reporters had approached him with the complaint that their salaries are a paltry Rs12,000 and even that isn't paid for as long as three months at times.
Justice Nisar asked Mir if someone could formulate their budget in Rs12,000 and suggested that the journalist also raise his voice for such reporters.
"These reporters are your assets," the CJP told Mir, observing that anchorpersons conduct their programmes based on news collected by the reporters.
During the hearing, the CJP asked Mir how much salary he was receiving from Geo TV. The anchorperson chose not to answer directly, saying that his salary too hasn't been issued for three months.
The CJP observed that an anchor is paid Rs5.2 million and another Rs3.2 million by the media group. When Mir claimed that it was not true, the CJP remarked that he has a record of the salaries.
Justice Nisar then ordered Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, who is also the chief editor and publisher of The News and Urdu daily Jang, to personally appear before the court on Tuesday and explain the non-payment of salaries to media workers employed by Geo/Jang group.
"We will ask him [Rahman] how Hamid Mir's Mercedes will function if he hasn't been paid for three months," the CJP remarked, tongue-in-cheek.
The CJP added that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman "can do whatever he wants against me", but that he would have to answer for the non-payment of salaries to workers.
The additional attorney general informed the court during the hearing that a six-member "searching committee" has been constituted after the prime minister's approval to find the new Pemra chairman. Headed by Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Sartaj Aziz, the committee would have Pakistan Broadcasters Association Chairman Mian Amir Mehmood, All Pakistan Newspapers Society President Hameed Haroon, journalist Arif Nizami, State Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb and Information Secretary Sardar Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera as its members.
However, the CJP ordered the removal of Aurangzeb from the body, saying she would be "busy issuing statements hence it will be difficult for her to dedicate time to the committee".
Besides drafting new laws governing Pemra, the committee will propose a three-member panel for selection of new Pemra chairman by the prime minister within three weeks.
The hearing of the case was subsequently adjourned for two weeks.
The development comes as reports of suspension of channels associated with Geo TV network continue to do rounds in parts of the country. As Geo News went off air in several parts of the country at the end of last month, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority clarified that it had not given directives for closure of any channel.
According to Geo TV network president Imran Aslam, all of their five channels were facing shutdown across the country, which was not just limited to areas in Defence Housing Authority (DHA).
“This is an attempt to financially cripple the organisation into submission,” he said at the time.
The issue was also brought up before the SC in the last media commission hearing.
The Geo News website has been running a message on its homepage reminding viewers that access to information is their fundamental right and requesting them to inform the media house if they are not receiving the channel's transmissions.