In Pakistan I believe one of our biggest challenges is accountability and it seems we are in an endless search of solutions while creating further problems in the process. While I was studying journalism, I learnt that a journalist’s responsibility is to seek truth and made every attempt to highlight it in the bleakest hours of humanity. I also learnt that I had to look beyond the personal interests when it comes to truth. But I have always wondered if it is the same case with Geo tv or the larger Jang Group? Not once but many times in the recent past the group has chosen to stand by anything but truth. Leaving all the past dirt aside I would come to the point in the recent sequence of events that brought the news group head to head with the government’s media watchdog Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).
This is not the first time that Jang Group is up in arms against a government for some dubious reasons. In the 90s Jang Group embroiled itself with then government of Mian Nawaz Shareef on some tax issues and Mian sahib’s accountability Tsar Saif Ur Rahman nearly brought the group down to its knees, but due to the very reasons that both of the parties had wrong reasons to accuse each other the matter was resolved behind closed doors. Thank God we didn’t have Geo in those days otherwise imagine the ordeal we must have been through.
This time it is PPP government under the radar where the matter is not accountability or any dubious activities committed by any one of the parties but a simple matter of rules and regulations where Geo is throwing tantrums throughout the day on its news and entertainment channels. The first impression is that maybe Geo (read Jang Group) is ageing backwards? Maybe like the curious case of Benjamin Button? My increasing worry is that this whole thing is portrayed as the very existence of Pakistan and humanity is in danger. As it was the case when Veena went to Big Brother in India and the existence of Pakistan became all too fragile, the matter of fact is that the very idea of existence of Pakistan and our religion is so fragile if we see it through this perspective that one lone incident and actor can jeopardise it. I wonder what is it really? I also increasingly doubt the loud slogans about unbiased news and handling of news beyond personal and institutional grudge.
So let me start with facts and separate the myth from reality. Jang Group claims that Geo Super and Aag have been shut down by the orders of PEMRA at the behest of president house (as they claim it under the lines). The fact of the matter is that PEMRA did close Aag because as it claims it is an entertainment channel not sports channel because it started broadcasting IPL matches. This matter shows the Geo mentality of thinking itself above the law and doing things unilaterally and going against their own rhetoric that there should be rule of law in Pakistan. If it so much believes in the rule of law then why it did not approach PEMRA before it unilaterally decided to broadcast IPL matches on its entertainment channel. At the end of the day the license issued to Aag is not for sports but for entertainment. What Geo is promoting here is that because it is a news channel it can do whatever it wants and violate the rules on its own. It might not be the case (I heavily doubt that) but if we for a second believe on the situation Geo found it that it is supposedly being victimised by government and PEMRA, is it right for Geo to do a wrong in response to a wrong? I believe no and by doing so Geo lost any respect that it had. The Jang Group earlier violated the same rule by showing cricket world cup matches on Aag. PEMRA did issue a show-cause notice on the matter but did not take any action because of the hype created by Geo.
I strongly support PEMRA’s decision to shut down Aag to set the precedence for any future attempts by media conglomerates to use their arms for wrong purposes. On top of that Geo made it worse by throwing in a huge tantrum and with its childish and immature mocking of Acting DG PEMRA continuously on its channels. So Geo’s tantrums with regard to Aag are baseless and utterly nonsense and I believe it needs to grow up if it wants to have any respect from educated and sane Pakistanis. With this Geo’s claim that Aag was healthy entertainment in Pakistan are piles of lies, Geo is the root cause of many evils nurturing in Pakistan and few of them are that lies are acceptable and breaking law is acceptable and right. Isn’t this the message with regard to its tantrums on the shutdown of Aag?
Now lets turn to the super issue of Geo super and see where the problem might have occurred. First of all I would like to say that both Jang Group and government are wrong, they both have made blunders in this matter and both of them have their hands in bringing this matter to this level. The onus of the entire problem once again lies on Geo who was misusing it’s landing permission in the first place, PEMRA on its part turned a blind eye for too long to let it happen in clear violation of its ordinance. PEMRA went on a massive offence against the black mailing (one of the best in this trade) tactics of Geo and Jang Group. Jang Group is not doing this for the first time as it is going on an offensive under false pretence and lies. In the past they have done this many times and that’s why I am not surprised at all.
In their efforts to pile up on their lies until they bury themselves, Jang Group claims to be doing all this for a noble cause “serving Pakistan”. On top of that they think people would buy it. If Geo is doing it for Pakistan then why did they went out of their way to reveal the identity of Ajmal Qasab, wrong or right but where was the interest of Pakistan at that time? If they are doing it selflessly where they are making the money? From depriving Voice of America from their due shares (as claimed by Late Salman Taseer in his statement) or black mailing government and not paying millions of rupees in loans and taxes to government? I am just asking because I think those who will read would know for fact what I mean to say and where I am pointing my fingers.
Now this claim wound me up badly that Geo Super being the Pakistan’s first sports channel. This is falsehood of satanic proportion and extreme of taking Pakistanis for a ride. What those sitting at Jang Group thin of Pakistani, as maybe we don’t know the facts you know. Geo Super is an Emirati channels technically as it is registered and based in Dubai, UAE. PEMRA when it claims that Geo Super is like any other channels in the sports category given landing rights to distribute its program to cable operators in Pakistan. If it is first Pakistani sports channels then why it is registered and based in UAE? Why not in Pakistan and where does the rhetoric of Pakistani national interest goes when they prefer to register and pay in a foreign land as well as giving jobs there too. But not doing it in Pakistan a country that they so dearly pretend to love?
Now as they say in Punjabi you cannot have chupri (buttered chapatti) and two at the same time, if Geo decided to base in UAE because it thought to keep the channel away from the approaches of Pakistani authorities so then the price it is paying is valid and right. If it is a Pakistani channel I would like to see the financial status of the channel to see how much the current debacle has dented the fortunes of the channel of “saints”? But those running the channel are very smart, that is exactly why they registered the channel in UAE to save taxes and yet claim falsely to be Pakistani Chanel. On another note BBC Urdu service and DM digital channel employs many Pakistanis, the later is owned by a Pakistani Brit, so if that were the criteria would they be labelled as Pakistani services? Off course not so why then we should think about Geo Super as Pakistani?
PEMRA binds every channel in Pakistan to declare its revenue to PEMRA and give a percentage of them to PEMRA as annual licence fee. PEMRA on its part is not very competent authority to put in place systems to check audit reports submitted by the channels to verify their claims and assess right value to ascertain their shares. It simply takes the word of mouth from channels and as the case is here no channel tells the true value of their revenues to PEMRA and go scot free from submitting their right value of share. As it is the case in Pakistan majority of businesses don’t have any systems to record their revenues and under the table agreements and verbal contracts mean there is no chance any authority can ever verify the true extent of revenues and government’s shares coming out of that. In this matter Geo Super owes PEMRA the landing rights fee for last four years. A defaulter itself is acting like a saint on its own screens is beyond understanding to me. Though I am very well aware of the dirty mind behind it.
The claim that Geo Super’s disappearance has affected the over all level of sports in Pakistan is again pile of lies, in fact I asked my friends to send me some photos from across Pakistan of different sports activities and here is what is happening across Pakistan. This plainly tells Geo Super that it is not telling the truth and making a mountain out of molehill. Again something it is best at.
I also strongly disagree with the claim that the action of shutting down (this is also debatable as who actually shut down Geo Super in the first place) is an attack on Jang Group’s finances. I would have accepted this claim if (and that is a big if) PEMRA would have (I don’t believe it has) shut down Geo Super during world cup cricket. If the government (of not very saintly people itself) was so keen on taking Jang Group for task why did it let Jang Group broadcast cricket world cup? That was the best time for the government to dent the group’s finances if we accept the claim by Jang Group. If still Jang Group is adamant to accuse PEMRA and the government at large then I think it is about time for the group to come clean with its finances, of Geo Pakistani and non Pakistani channels. This is the idealistic claim that I strongly doubt will ever happen. That’s why it is resorting to throwing tantrums upon tantrums on its open channels. It is the same reason that the channel is resorting to blackmailing and mocking government institutions and people following on the footsteps of its favourite news medium, Tabloids.
This game of murky lies upon lies is so bad that it shakes the very foundation of all the principals Geo (rather Jang Group) claims to stand for and is never tired of propagating on air. It broke law not once but many times in this whole episode, ignored the government’s watch dog’s repeated show cause notices, did not pay the due share to government for it’s landing rights and many other wrong doings. On top of all this evil and full lies drama Geo Super has been breaking the law repeatedly since its inception. Geo Super being a foreign channel with landing rights permission only has been not very secretly up linking its programs under the guise from Pakistan. I am sure PEMRA knew about it but decided to turn a blind eye towards the matter until recent drama unfolded. To make maters worse Jang Group (you may read any other name here but the mother of all is same) decided to pull the plug on its channels itself. When PEMRA blocked Geo Super’s capacity to up link (secretly or openly) from Pakistan. This left Jang Group with no choice but to shut the whole damn thing down. This further proves my point that Geo Super was up linking from Pakistan. Because now it no longer has the ability to up link from Pakistan it is left with nothing to broadcast, so shutting down and putting all the blame on PEMRA and government was the easiest option for them.
It also makes no sense and proves Jang Group a liar that its ability to broadcast is hindered. As it was having both ways, by registering abroad and up linking from Pakistan now it is stuck in its own over smart act. If Geo super was not up linking from Pakistan by blatantly breaking the law then why it applied for up linking license in a hurry on 4th April? Also if it was trying to take advantage of the rules by applying for such a facility then why it failed to supply details of any special event it wanted to cover? Again this shows the false pretence of Jang Group and Geo where they try to take cover of legal channels only to cover their illegal actions. By applying for this temporary uplink facility the channel was trying to save its ass over its wrong doings and making the last ditch efforts to hide the fact that it was up linking programs from Pakistan for Geo Super illegally.
My above point is also obvious from the Jang Group Versus PEMRA case in Supreme Court. Geo or Jang Group never fails to mention the fact that PEMRA is violating the court orders but fails to provide the details of how it is doing so. In fact the matter is opposite to how it is stated on Geo tv. The fact of the mater is that it was PEMRA that approached Geo and reminded the group about its soon to expire landing rights permission for 5 years. Geo under PEMRA rules should have applied for the extension of rights six months before the expiry, which it failed to comply.
In reality the case was simple Geo Super should have been taken off air as soon as its permission was invalid, but it was a kind gesture from PEMRA to remind the group about the expiry. Jang Group as usually resorted to its usual antics and pleaded the Supreme Court to allow it to show Cricket World Cup by granting it a stay against PEMRA. Then without any interference Geo on its own requested the court that it would like to settle the case out of the court. The counsel for PEMRA told the court that PEMRA would not take Geo Super off air despite the fact that they are defaulters from last four years of PEMRA dues. When Geo Super’s counsel pressed the court for more relief the Justice hearing the case said “If you are not satisfied then the court will decide the case on the merit.” But soon Geo Super’s counsel retreated and told the court that his client was ready to sort out matters with PEMRA within a week. The court passed on the orders that ” The counsel for PEMRA informed the court that they do not intend to off air the transmission of petitioner channel in connection with PEMRA press release of January 28 providing base for filing the petition.” The court also ordered both parties “The above undertaking that they would settle issue of annual fee payment within one week time, learned counsel placed on record a letter where by the orders of Supreme Court has been acted upon and a copy has been circulated to all cable operators, since the grievances are no more now, therefore, counsel for the petitioner wants withdrawal of the petition, the case is disposed off.”
One of the most ironic facts in this whole drama is that Geo rushed to Supreme Court and then ran out straight after. Geo itself affectively disposed of its case and the talk about violation of court orders is pile of lies as usual. Given all these lies, half-truths and fabrications on the part of Geo, I believe PEMRA is not a complete saint either, it has it own share of negligence and criminal blind eye attitude towards gross violations of its own rules which it is trying to enforce now. If PEMRA is so serious about taking action why it is just doing against Geo Tv or Jang Group? Why it has affectively turned a bind eye towards cable operators who show channels not on the list of channels authorised by PEMRA? Given the fact that Jang Group has declared an open war against the PPP government, if it was otherwise I would have doubted if PEMRA had gone to such stretch to enforce its authority.
It is again repetition of past where both the government of Musharraf and Mian Nawaz Sharif both provided cover to Jang Group’s illegal activities or what they call tax evasion but when it started hitting on their own boots they started the campaign to clamp down on the group. This time it is Jang Group that has been caught in its own act, and it is constantly bullying the government and PEMRA to take action after providing them with a great excuse. Now on moral and ethical grounds as Jang Group pretends on its screens it is entangled in a constant war with the government. Jang Group is alleged to be a defaulter of 90 crores to the government in back taxes from past many years.
Very sadly this is a sordid business of lies upon lies and a place where no one is a sacred cow and everyone is liar and cheater but pretends to be otherwise. Both PEMRA + Government and Jang Group find themselves at the lowest of the low on moral grounds. The poor people who are signing petitions or as Jang Group calls them the people license to Geo Super are mere grass caught between two bulls that are equally nasty and dirty to the core.