SC seeks reply from govt, PEMRA over ‘illegal’ radio channels operated by ISPR

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The Supreme Court of Pakistan has sought a reply from the federal government and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) over the alleged illegal functioning on radio channels by the army’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

A two-judge bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan on Wednesday took up a plea by top human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir, seeking complete disclosure of the number of radio channels run by ISPR, as well as their source of funding. On June 15, the apex court asked Jahangir to file miscellaneous civil applications regarding her claim.

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Appearing before the bench, Jahangir pleaded that the federal government and Pemra should be directed to disclose the number of FM radio stations run by the ISPR. The application further sought the disclosure of whether these channels were being regulated, requesting the government to disclose the amount of resources allocated to and spent by the ISPR on its media, including the amount spent on production of films and dramas.

In the application, Jahangir also raised concerns over whether the ISPR has ever engaged working journalists in any capacity. She alleged that there was no physical account or source of information regarding the amount of public resources allocated for ISPR’s media cell and how it’s being used to propagate information that should be objective and credible.

It was further alleged in the application that ISPR maintains a large social media cell, which uses its influence to defame individuals. Referring to Article 19-A of the constitution, the applicant contended that there is no law which prohibits disclosure of resources spent on media or social media activities which are being carried out by the ISPR.

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It was further contended that Pemra is acting in a ‘discriminatory manner’ by refusing to regulate media outlets and use of social media operated by the ISPR. The application added that a selective imposition of regulation to discrimination against other media outlets and as such is contrary to Article 25 of the constitution.

“Pakistan has three power centers that control media and other information which is communicated to the public at large. The first is government controlled media, followed by private media and ISPR, which does not have any regulations imposed.”

The application revealed that radio channels using frequency FM 89.04 and FM 96.00 have an outreach of over 55 cities and are reportedly under ISPR’s direct control, whereas Pemra has failed to regulate these FM radio stations, adding that ISPR is using frequency spot 89.04 illegally as it had not been granted license by Pemra.

It was further reported that ISPR approached Pemra on June 18, 2010 with a request to allocate Radio FM 96, which they had been operating without going through the legal procedure and regulations.

The application claimed that Pemra on September 27, 2007 refused to grant permission to ISPR to run a non-commercial FM radio channel, however, the same is still being carried out.

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