ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended the orders of Lahore High Court (LHC) and banned the transmission of Indian content on Pakistani channels.  A three-judge bench headed by Justice Gulzar Ahmed heard the appeal of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) against LHC’s July 2017 order. In 2017, the LHC had lifted the ban on the petition pleaded by late Asma Jahangir.

PEMRA’s counsel Advocate Mudassar Abbasi informed the bench that the then federal government had drafted a policy in 2006 according to which only 10 percent foreign content could be aired on Pakistani TV channels.

He further informed the bench that PEMRA imposed a complete ban on airing Indian content on local television channels on October 19 of 2016.   Justice Ahmed questioned if Pakistanis still want to watch Indian content. PEMRA’s counsel informed the bench that the Indian content has zero viewership on local channels adding that the LHC orders have curtailed the authority of PEMRA.

He contended PEMRA in 2006 decided that it would allow 10 per cent foreign content to the broadcast media licensees wherein 40 per cent of 10 per cent may be English content and 60 per cent of 10 per cent may be Indian or other content.  The appeal further contended that LHC wrongly held that M/s Leo Communications Pvt Ltd, the respondent, has right to choose a programming percentage while it is a matter to be finally approved by the PEMRA.  It further argued that the LHC’s ruling is likely to be misinterpreted, disrupting the regulatory regime provided for by the legislative scheme of instruments, statutory and executive.

It contended that the LHC subsumed Indian content within the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, thus, indirectly holding that denial thereof placed a clog on every citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression vis-א-vis Indian content.

The LHC judgment while interpreting the legislative scheme including the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, wrongly enlarged the latter’s scope, in effect embedding Indian content within its’ otherwise judicially evolved by degrees multidimensional categories of free speech, thus, wrongly afforded protection to Indian content in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. LHC’s judgment  overlooked the fact that Indian content may not have been given the protection, which is otherwise extended to speech and expression found unpleasant or unacceptable or disagreeable or hated by other citizens of the State. 

The appeal further argued that the LHC judgment was justified in not appreciating that, in fact, the Indian government has never permitted Pakistani channels vide landing rights permission (LRP), conversely it is the policy of the PEMRA to not grant LRP to foreign broadcasting services of Indian origin, pursuant to rules 2(1)(j) & 14 of the Rules of 2009.

PEMRA’s counsel Advocate Abbasi also submitted a compliance report stating that the directions of top court issued in a human rights case regarding strict action against the airing of Indian channels were conveyed to all satellite TV licences, all FM Radio Stations, all Distribution Services licences and that the airing of any Indian content will tantamount to contempt of Court.

It added that letter was also issued to Monitoring Wing to strictly monitor all broadcast media licenses and distribution services licensees adding that if any licensee violates then the same will be reported to Operations-Broadcast Wing fir necessary for legal action under PEMRA laws.

A reminder letter was also issued to all Landing Rights Permission holders not to air Indian content and comply with PEMRA laws as well as the directions of the top court.

Non-compliance, shall lead to legal action under Section 27, 29, 30 and 33 of PEMRA Ordinance 2002, besides filing of an application before the top court for initiation of proceedings of contempt of Court in defiance of top court’s an earlier order dated October 27 of 2018.

List of illegal STV Channels was also shared with all regional general managers to take further action against distribution service Licensees which violate PEMRA laws.

The top court, while suspending the LHC’s judgment and banning airing of Indian content of Pakistani TV Channels adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period.