The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on Friday issued a show-cause notice to ARY News for airing what it called was "fake/unverified news" based on informal sources about the stance of Pakistan's former ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed, regarding the 'Cablegate' controversy.
The cable in question refers to a communique sent by Majeed that former prime minister Imran Khan has continuously claimed contains evidence of a conspiracy to topple his government. The National Security Committee (NSC) convened a meeting on the cable yesterday — the second time in as many months that the NSC held a meeting to review the cable's contents — in which the former US ambassador was also present and testified before it.
According to the show-cause notice, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the channel aired the news, regarding the ambassador's stance in the meeting, at 6:52pm on Friday.
According to the comments quoted in the notice, ARY News claimed citing sources that Majeed, in the NSC meeting, maintained that the cable's contents amounted to interference in internal affairs, and that it was a "reality" that threatening language had been used in the cable and the ambassador remained steadfast on his stance despite government pressure.
Pemra said that the airing of "fake/unverified news" quoting informal sources without taking Majeed's point of view appeared to be an "intentional move on the part of ARY News and tantamount to malign state institutions".
"Moreover, this act is against the established journalistic ethics wherein an official statement of the NSC was issued and yet ARY News is relying on informal sources with ulterior intentions to mislead viewers," the notice said.
It added that the airing of fake news and unverified content raised serious concerns about the performance of the channel's editorial board and the gatekeeping tools adopted.
"Airing of such fake /unverified news [is] tantamount to sheer violation of Section 20(f) of Pemra Ordinance 2002 as amended [by] Pemra (Amendment) Act, 2007 read with Clause 3(1)(i,k), 4(1), 4(2), 4(4), 4(7), 4(10), 5, 17 and 24 of Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct 2015, as well as orders of the Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan in suo moto case No. 28 of 2018, duly communicated to the channel on various occasions," the notice said.
It directed the chief executive officer for ARY Communications Ltd to show cause in writing within seven days as to why legal action — including an imposition of fine, suspension and revocation of license under Section 29, 30 and other enabling provisions of Pemra Ordinance 2002 — should not be initiated.
It further directed the CEO to appear in person or through an authorised representative for a personal hearing on April 29 at 11:30am at Pemra's Islamabad headquarters along with the written reply.
"In case of non-compliance, ex-parte legal action shall be taken against the licensee in accordance with relevant provisions of Pemra Laws," the notice warned.
Meanwhile, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry on Friday said the kind of pressure being faced by ARY chief Salman Iqbal was not "ordinary". "ARY team must have nerves of steal to ignore all pressures and stand up to the truth," he said.
Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb issued a statement rejecting the "misleading" claims made by ARY News although she did not name the channel she was speaking about.
She said the ambassador had presented his stance in the NSC meeting and the cable's content and context were reviewed. Aurangzeb said publishing such news after the ambassador's stance, intent and perspective were clarified amounted to "negative politics".
"Presenting lies as news is akin to running a knife on the throat of Pakistan's national interests," the information minister said.
The Foreign Office also issued a response regarding the incident. It said the ambassador briefed the NSC about the context and content of the cable and shared his professional assessment. "His briefing and assessment are accurately reflected in the statement issued at the conclusion of the NSC meeting today," the FO added.
Ever since his ouster through a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly, Imran has dismissed the Shehbaz government, terming it "imported".
The former PM said that the no-confidence move against him was part of a foreign conspiracy, claiming that the cable received from the ambassador on March 7, a day before the opposition officially filed the no-trust move against him, was evidence of the conspiracy.
Imran claimed that the cable showed Pakistan was threatened by a US diplomat who said the country would have to face consequences if he was not removed via the no-trust motion, which had not even been filed at the time.
“How could they know about the no-confidence motion even before it was filed?” Imran has asked charged supporters in several public rallies in the past few weeks, adding that local abettors colluded with their “foreign sponsors” to make the alleged conspiracy successful.
The issue was first raised by Imran at a public rally on March 27, four days before the first NSC meeting was held to review the contents of the cable.
Since then, Imran has referred to the cable in several public addresses when talking about an alleged plot to remove him from power.
In one of his addresses, Imran said the cable carried details of the ambassador’s meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu in which the latter allegedly threatened Pakistan.
Majeed, in the cable, reportedly said that Lu warned that Imran's continuation as the prime minister would have repercussions for bilateral relations. The US, Imran claimed, was annoyed with his "independent foreign policy" and visit to Moscow.
It was on the basis of this cable, which he saw as evidence of a conspiracy to oust Imran, that the National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri gave a ruling to dismiss the no-trust move against the then premier on April 3, when voting on the resolution was set to take place, terming the motion contradictory to Article 5 of the Constitution, which mandates loyalty to the state for all citizens.
Suri's ruling was subsequently voided by the Supreme Court and voting on the no-trust resolution finally took place on April 10, as a result of which Imran was removed as prime minister.
Additional reporting by Naveed Siddiqui.