ARY News has had a telling-off from Ofcom for its “biased” coverage in May this year. Ofcom was alerted by complainants who objected to critical references on ARY News about the Independent Media Corporation (Geo Network), and in particular, allegations that services owned by the company, including Geo TV, had committed blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, his associates and family.
Ofcom noted that the allegations of blasphemy arose from the broadcast of the programme ‘Utho Jago Pakistan’ on Geo TV in Pakistan on 14 May 2014. This edition of ‘Utho Jago Pakistan’ featured a re-enactment of the wedding of the programme۪s guests Veena Malik, a Pakistani actress, and Assad Khan Khattak, including a group of live musicians performing a renowned devotional qawwali. The singing of this qawwali during the re-enactment of the wedding was criticised by some clerics and parts of the Pakistani media as disrespectful to the family of the Prophet Mohammed.
Ofcom noted that four news items in May 2014 were not duly impartial. The complainants also considered the news items and the five editions of ‘Khara Sach’ contained: one sided hate speech in all reports.
ARY explained that the programmes portrayed a factual account of the public۪s opinions, reactions and demonstrations provoked by the offending broadcast of the re-enactment of the wedding on Geo TV. It added that many opinions were featured on the programmes and included the reactions of the regulatory authorities. Nonetheless the Licensee said that its staff had attended a compliance training session with a third party consultant.
Ofcom said, in carrying out its duties, it must balance the right to freedom of expression with the requirement in the Code to preserve due impartiality on matters relating to political or industrial controversy or matters relating to current public policy. Ofcom recognises that Section Five of the Code, which sets out how due impartiality must be preserved, acts to limit to some extent freedom of expression.
The obligation in Rule 5.1 to present news with due impartiality applies potentially to any issue covered in a news programme, and not just to matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy. In judging whether due impartiality is preserved in any particular case, the Code makes clear that the term due means adequate or appropriate for the subject matter. Therefore due impartiality does not mean an equal division of time has to be given to every view, or that every argument and every facet of the argument has to be represented. Due impartiality may be preserved in a number of ways and it is an editorial decision for the broadcaster as to how it ensures due impartiality is maintained.
Ofcom took into account ARY۪s comments that many opinions were featured on the programmes and that it had included the reactions of the regulatory authorities. However, our view was that the alternative viewpoints presented during the programmes were insufficient, given the range and frequency of strongly critical comments against Independent Media Corporation and the Pakistani Government. Although we noted that a very brief interview with PEMRA member Israr Abbasi was included in two of the four broadcasts.
Given the above, we concluded that, on the specific facts of this case, the news programmes were not presented with due impartiality and were therefore in breach of Rule 5.1 of the Code.