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News channel fined in London: Can Pakistani media be similarly held accountable?

Rather than playing its role as an unbiased purveyor of news, the Pakistani media has always seemed to have craved becoming a political actor itself

The recent case of private channels New Vision TV, the broadcaster of ARY UK, apologising to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Ishaq Dar over false allegations has grabbed many people’s attention.

Not just the channel apogised the former finance minister after losing a defamation case in London but also agreed to pay the fine. This has raised many questions about the same rule being implemented for Pakistani media as well, as our broadcast has a history of claiming false allegations without any proof.

False allegations

It all started when Ishaq Dar recently won his defamation case against private channel ARY News at the London High Court. He had sued ARY – which operates under the company name New Vision Television (NVTV) in UK and Europe.

The ARY anchors and Shahzad Akbar had accused Ishaq Dar of being involved in money-laundering, corruption, undue control of the Financial Monitoring Unit, and issuing death threats. 

Allegations

In the year 2019, ARY’s anchors Chaudhary Ghulam Hussain and Sabir Shakir had levelled the allegations against Ishaq Dar on 8 July the same year and Shahzad Akbar issued the remarks against Dar on 8 August, two years ago, resulting in the finance minister taking legal action against them at the London High Court.

Claim

Launching his case at the London High Court, Ishaq Dar had claimed that the allegations made in both of these programmes were understood to mean that he had stolen money from the Pakistani government and was willing to pay it back if allowed to return to Pakistan; that his bank accounts have been traced and they contain large sums of stolen money, in the region of one billion dollars; that he issued death threats and that he was responsible for preventing the Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) and other key institutions from working, including being involved in fraudulently protecting the individuals who had been involved in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills money laundering case.

Dar had claimed that the imputations conveyed by the publications constituted very serious defamatory allegations of which he was reported to be guilty as a matter of fact. Dar had claimed he suffered very serious harm to his reputation and has suffered considerable hurt, distress and embarrassment. Dar denied all allegations as politically motivated witch-hunt and claimed damages for libel, including aggravated damages and a full apology and retraction of all allegations.

Damages

It remains unclear as to how much amount Ishaq Dar has won of the demanded £200,000. Unconfirmed reports however suggest that the amount he has won is around £100,000, besides legal costs to his lawyers.

Pakistani media and false claims

The phenomenon of fake claims and allegations is usually defined as spreading misinformation for political and economic gains in the form of propaganda entertainment. Our politicians when it comes to making such headlines and news are always on top.

The story of ‘35 punctures’

Back in 2014, prime minister Imran Khan, then a PTI leader claimed that Najam Sethi, former caretaker chief minister of Punjab, had called Nawaz Sharif on election night and assured him that the ‘35 punctures’ had been fixed, allegedly referring to electoral rigging in 35 Punjab constituencies.

Reham-Zulfi conflict

Reham Khan, the former wife of Prime Minister Imran Khan recently apologised to PM Khan’s former Special Assistant Zulfiqar Bukhari after losing a defamation case brought by the Bukhari against her in the United Kingdom. She, in December 2019, in her YouTube broadcast addressed the sale of the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan and raised the question of Zulfi Bukhari’s alleged involvement in the sale.

After losing the case to Bukhari, Khan not only formally apologised but also agreed to pay the Bukhari a sum of £50,000 as a contribution for damaging Bukhari’s reputation.  

Need for media accountability

Rather than playing its role as an unbiased purveyor of news, the Pakistani media has always seemed to have craved becoming a political actor itself. From magnates who seek power through media ownership to talk show hosts who like nothing better than igniting controversy, our media stars have often abdicated their responsibilities in a quest for glory-hunting. 

Politicians play the most vital roles in violating media ethics the most. First such important political figures claim allegations which turn out to be always false in the future and then eventually they back off without facing any legal actions or penalties.