ISLAMABAD - Private members of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on Tuesday recommended suspension of Geo News, Geo Entertainment and Geo Tez licences, asking the authorities to seal their offices.

“Keeping in view Pemra rules, constitution and national security, all private members have decided to immediately suspend licences of Geo News, Geo Entertainment and Geo Tez,” private member Mian Shams announced after the meeting.

“We have issued directions to the director general (operations) to seal the offices,” Israr Abbasi said and added the authority could also seek the help of police to implement the decision.

Later, a Pemra spokesperson issued a statement disowning the meeting held by private members, saying it was devoid of any legal value.

The Pemra spokesperson said: “Pemra disowns the decisions announced by three members of Pemra regarding cancellation of Geo’s licences. The majority of the members at 95th meeting on May 9, 2014, had decided to refer the case to the Ministry of Law for legal opinion. The decision of seeking opinion from the Law Division was taken in all fairness to avoid any future legal consequences in such a critical issue.”

According to our Karachi correspondent, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s Council of Complaints, Karachi chapter, recommended cancellation of Geo Entertainment licence after receiving complaints over airing blasphemous content in its morning show.

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s Council of Complaints, Karachi chapter, had received 64,922 complaints against the five channels of Geo media group after which the council recommended cancellation of the licence of Geo Entertainment.

On the other hand, the Pemra private members’ meeting has decided to send four licences of Geo TV to the Ministry of Interior for security clearance as there were allegations of “anti-state agenda and foreign funding.”

The 97th scheduled meeting of Pemra was attended by five members – Mian Shams from Punjab, Israr Abbasi from Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Fariha Iftikhar from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Shama Parveen Magsi from Balochistan and Zeba Hussain from Sindh. However, ex-officio members who represent the government once again remained absent from the meeting.

Addressing media persons after a marathon meeting, Shams said the licences would remain suspended till the May 28 meeting at which the authority would take a final decision over the issue.

He said the meeting had asked Council of Complaints, Islamabad, to give its opinion by May 28 for a decision on revocation of Geo’s licence. “We could have taken the decision during the last meeting, but the government members were absent, so they were provided with an opportunity to attend the next meeting, but it did not happen,” he added.

He said the private members wanted the government members to be present so that an amicable decision on the issue could be taken.

He alleged Mir Shakeelur Rehman, the owner of the media group, had tried to influence the members for a favourable decision. “During the 94th meeting, Mir Shakeelur Rehman made telephone calls to all the members, including me, but I did not attend the call,” he added.

“Pemra is an independent organisation and had a government representative attended Tuesday’s meeting, it would have been better,” he said.

Once the recommendations are received back, a special committee will be formed to make a final decision regarding Geo TV’s licences.

The complaint against Geo Entertainment has already been referred to the Council of Complaints, Sindh. The minutes of the CoC are awaited and the Authority would consider this matter in the next schedule meeting.

The Pemra spokesperson said that Tuesday’s private members’ meeting was called without following the set procedures and thus it had no legal standing. According to Rule 3(4) of Pemra Rules 2009, the chairman or, as the case may be, more than half of the total members can call the meeting i.e. out of 12 members at least seven members can call a meeting. This was an informal meeting attended by five members.

The executive member was not even asked to officially convene the meeting and notify it through the secretary to the Authority which is the set procedure. The meeting convened by these members is without any official intimation or invitation to other members in accordance with the procedure. The Authority committee is exercising the power of chairman in day-to-day affairs and taking decisions with the requisite quorum.”

According to the released data of the Pemra’s Council of Complaints, Karachi chapter, 64,922 complaints against the entire group of Geo Independent Media Group were received. As per details, 9,142 complaints were received against Geo Entertainment, 27,014 against Geo News, 9,008 against Geo Kahani, 8,930 against Geo Super and 10,828 against Geo Tez.

The recommendation was made after reviewing thousands of complaints by five members of the Council of Complaints, Shehla Abbasi, Ali Farhan Rizvi, Shima Karmani and Talat Hussain.

It is worth mentioning here that Geo Media Group came under immense criticism following allegations against the ISI chief and for airing ‘blasphemous content’ in its morning show. The aftermath saw several protests across the country and registration of dozens of cases pleading the courts to invoke blasphemy laws against the accused.

Earlier in the day, Cable operators from all across the country staged a protest in front of the Pemra headquarters and demanded action against Geo TV under Section 27 of Pemra Ordinance.

All Pakistan Cable Operators Association Chairman Khalid Arayin led the protest. The protesters, carrying placards, chanted slogans against Geo TV.

Khalid Arayin commented that cable operators were facing threats from religious parties for airing GEO TV transmission on cable. He urged the government not to pressurise cable operators to air the Geo TV transmissions.