SC restrains Pemra from taking action against Neo TV

Updated May 12, 2020

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Channel has entertainment licence but shows news, says Pemra. — SC Website/File
Channel has entertainment licence but shows news, says Pemra. — SC Website/File

ISLAMABAD: The Sup­re­­­me Court on Monday res­tr­a­ined the Pakistan Elec­tronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) from taking any co­­ercive measures against Neo TV channel for a period of 15 days until the channel challenges the vires of the Pemra-Tele­vision Broadcast Station Opera­tions Regulations 2012.

A two-judge Supreme Cou­rt bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam had taken up an appeal of Neo TV channel against the Islamabad High Court’s rejection last month of its plea to change its category from entertainment to current affairs and news.

Barrister Syed Ali Zafar, representing the TV channel, argued that Pemra had given a licence to Neo TV under the Pemra Ordin­ance, 2002, but when the channel applied for change of programming-mix, the authority rejected its application on the grounds that under the Regulations 2012, there could be no change in category of the licence.

The appeal filed by Neo TV against the decision of Pemra was also rejected by the high court.

The counsel argued that the judgement of the high court as well as the decision of Pemra were illegal, unlawful and void ab initio.

Under the 2002 Ordinan­­ce, change in the category or the programming-mix was spe­­­­cifically allowed and cou­ld only be refused by Pemra on the ground of public interest, the counsel said, adding that this was an established law that rules and regulations could not override a law.

While banning the change of category in the licence, Pemra had acted beyond its jurisdiction, the counsel said. Consequently, the Regulations 2012 were void.

Barrister Zafar ar­­gued that even if any amendments were to be made in the licence, this could only be done through the rules which were to be approved by the federal government and not through any regulations.

In this case, the counsel argued, the regulations were passed by Pemra without ap­­proval of the federal government which, according to the latest judgement of the Sup­reme Court in the Musta­­fa Impex case, meant the prime minister and the cabinet.

Barrister Zafar said Pemra had simply relied on the judgement of the high court and the Regulations 2012 to close down the television station of Neo TV.

After hearing the counsel, the apex court issued directives to Pemra that no coercive measures would be taken by the authority agai­nst Neo TV for a period of 15 days to enable the channel to challenge the vires of the Re­­gulations of 2012 and raise other grounds and Pemra’s action of closure of Neo TV in accordance with the law.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2020