Legal counsels for Geo News on Thursday termed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority's (Pemra) accusation of "sedition" against the news channel as "totally illegal" and said that the body had acted "beyond its jurisdiction".
The news channel had filed an appeal in the Lahore High Court (LHC) two months after Pemra served Geo News with a show cause notice and, ultimately, a fine of of Rs1 million for airing a "highly seditious and scandalous programme against National Accountability Bureau Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal and maligning state institutions".
According to Pemra, anchorperson Shahzaib Khanzada, in his programme Aaj Shahzaib Khanzada Kay Sath aired on July 18, discussed the matter of a scandalous video targeting the NAB chairman "unilaterally" and without taking into account the point of view of the anti-corruption watchdog.
The news channel, in its appeal, drew the court's attention to the allegation of sedition levelled by Pemra and said: "Under the constitutional scheme of Pakistan, Pemra is certainly not a body that can be said to have any authority to distribute certificates of sedition or prosecute them from doing so."
The appeal further said that Pemra's notice makes it "apparent and clear" that the regulatory body's approach against the channel is "discriminatory, biased and unfair". It added that Pemra's allegation of sedition "is totally illegal" and shows its "extreme level of discrimination, bias and willingness to go to any illegal lengths in order to protect NAB".
Geo News said that Pemra was "in violation" of Articles 19 and 19(A) of the Constitution and urged the court to direct the regulatory authority to "act fairly". The appellant further requested the court to declare that the electronic media watchdog had "no authority to allege and determine the offence of 'sedition'" as per Pemra Ordinance 2002 and by levelling that allegation, it had acted "beyond its jurisdiction".
The broadcaster also asked the court to declare that Geo News, under the Constitution, had the freedom to air "any news, make any fair analysis and to criticise the conduct of NAB [...] provided that NAB's point of view is also sought by the petitioners".
Furthermore, the news channel asked the court to restrain Pemra from taking any action against Geo News or any of its programmes about the anti-corruption watchdog "unless NAB itself takes any legal action against the petitioner".
Geo News also urged LHC to direct Pemra to restore the channel to its "original position".
The high court subsequently issued a notice to Pemra demanding a response and adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period.