News Analysis |
Mian Saqib Nisar, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, added one more victory to his achievements on World Press Freedom Day: He winded up the case regarding a delay in the payment of salaries to the employees of Pakistan’s widely contested No.1 channel- Geo. During the hearing of the suo motu notice, Hamid Mir, a seasoned journalist, informed the bench that an agreement has been made between the employees and the management of the channel.
This agreement stated that the pending salaries of over 90 percent of the employees, receiving up to Rupees 200,000,will be cleared by April 30. Mir revealed before the Chief Justice that in the future, the channel would be liable to pay a markup on the salaries for any delay. Interestingly, despite the fact that the network under question received hefty funds from Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz-led government, Geo TV Network’s counsel urged the apex court to compel the government to pay its bills for advertisements broadcasted by the channel.
Upon this, the Chief Justice remarked that this was not a basic rights issue, compared to the delay in salaries of employees, directing the lawyer to file a fresh complaint in this regard.Not only did the Chief Justice rule on the suo motu, but also ordered amendments to be made in the laws concerning Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA, during the tenure of the incumbent government.
The media watchdog is left without a head after the ouster of Absar Alam and due to the intervention of the apex court, it is likely to get a suitable head in the current month.
The issue of non-payment of salaries came to light in April when the Chief Justice took a suo moto notice on complaints filed by court reports of the channel – Syed Qamber Zaidi and Abdul Qayyum Siddique generally cover the beat. During the hearing of this case, on April 5th, the top judge bluntly remarked that the channel can either beg or borrow, but somehow compensate its staff.
The Chief Justice remarked that the TV channels which are not paying their staff, should be shut down. During one of the previous hearings, a reporter revealed that the channel did not pay its staff for the month of February and March. These allegations were confirmed by Hamid Mir, who also did not receive his salary. The Chief Justice had set April 30th as the deadline for Geo to clear the pending salaries.
In another hearing, the Chief Justice had summoned Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Editor-in-chief of the Geo and Jang Group, to clarify his position. Mian Saqib Nisar also asked Hamid Mir about his drawings from the media outlet, to which he kept mum. The top judge remarked that one of the anchors associated with the channel was drawing Rs 5.2 million while another was taking Rs 3.2 million.
Despite repeated summons, Mir Shakil ur Rehman failed to appear before the bench, with his counsel pleading that the respondent was suffering from back pain. However, to solve the this issue, the top judge had formed a committee comprising Hamid Mir, Waqar Satti (Reporter), Syed Qamber Zaidi (Reporter), Zaheerud Din Khan (CEO Geo) and Kamran Hafeez (Group Managing Director Geo).
Mir revealed before the Chief Justice that in the future, the channel would be liable to pay a markup on the salaries for any delay.
The said committee finally brokered an agreement and even before the start of hearing on Thursday, the channel paid salaries to 97 percent staffers. Not only did the channel has assure to regularize the pay from July, but the Chief Justice also made the agreement, a part of the detailed judgment.
Interestingly, this was not the first time the network was facing such accusations. One of its former employees, Mubashir Ali Zaidi, had been revealing the same on his Facebook profile, for over several months, in 2017.
Geo has been in the news since over one and a half years for its skewed editorial policy along with recent controversies. From March, its transmission started to disrupt in many areas across the country. The position of the channel was reportedly changed, prompting journalists to raise voice against the unjust treatment. However, the channel is now back on-air across Pakistan.
The complaint of Geo regarding the non-payment of bills by the government is interesting, as the channel kept advocating for the former ruling family after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification. According to an unofficial image, the government of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz handed over Rs. 438,293,723 or 430 million to Geo TV from 2013 till 2016, which apparently helped it in maintaining a good reputation of the government, at least on the screen.
The Chief Justice has not only ruled on the case of Geo salaries but is also actively involved in restructuring of PEMRA. Recently, Marriyum Aurangzeb, State Minister for Information, was removed from a committee constituted to select the new Chairman of Pakistan Media Regulation Authority (PEMRA). The media watchdog is left without a head after the ouster of Absar Alam and due to the intervention of the apex court, it is likely to get a suitable head in the current month. The actions of Chief Justice endorse that the state pillar of the judiciary is compelling the unbridled horse of media to fall in line for its wrongdoings.