Damages & Apologies: How UK Courts Cracked ARY

Damages & Apologies: How UK Courts Cracked ARY
ARY -- the go to network for all things Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is in trouble. Broadcasts were earlier disrupted, legal action has been initiated against top management. Accused it stands of conspiring against the State amongst a spate of other allegations.

While press freedom is a given in any healthy democracy it comes with a responsibility. When frivolity replaces the latter consequences can be severe.

ARY Network's earlier experience with the United Kingdom should have served as a primer. Judging by how events have panned out, however, this unfortunately appears to have not been the case. The Friday Times-Naya Daur present a timeline of the British judiciary cracking the network.

ARY Network filed for bankruptcy in Britain in 2017 after the network failed to substantiate its allegations against Jang Group owner Mir Shakilur Rahman. These included:  ARY Digital, ARY News, ARY QTV, ARY World News and ARY Entertainment. Since then, a UK-based news channel New Vision TV Limited [NVTV], holds the exclusive rights to broadcast ARY News in the UK.

Ishaq Dar libel case

Former finance minister Ishaq Dar moved the UK High Court in November, 2020 claiming, with apology, a libel of £200,000 along with legal costs. Dar did so after ARY levelled a series of graft allegations against him. Later, in March 2021, ARY offered for ‘amends’.

According to the UK Defamation Act of 1996, amends is a procedure by which a defendant who is accused of defamation may apologize in writing and pay damages for his act. Doing so will automatically terminate the defamation proceedings against them. In this way, even before the formal proceedings began, ARY acknowledged that the allegations were baseless and decided to apologise.

'FIA notice' for Gul Bukhari 

Activist Gul Bukhari has won a defamation case against ARY in United Kingdom after UK media regulatory body Ofcom ruled that New Vision Television (NVTV), ran fake news about a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) notice issued to her. Bukhari, a fierce critic of the 'establishment', has been based in London since 2019. Bukhari submitted her defamation complaint with the Ofcom in February, 2020.

Academic Syed Alam Shah accused of being Indian citizen

Academic Syed Alam Shah was presented as an Indian citizen conspiring against Pakistan when he staged a demonstration alongside other Sindhis against then Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar. Soon after, Shah filed a defamation case against NVTV. “A report aired on ARY alleged that Shah joined the protest and lied that he was a Pakistani from the Sindh region when he was originally from India. These were citizens of India and were taking part in India's nefarious plots against Pakistan. These allegations were not true. Shah is a citizen of Pakistan and was involved in the demonstration in good faith as he was concerned about the problems of his country. We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused Shah,” an aired apology read.

Political worker Nasir Butt presented as murderer, gangster

Nasir Butt of the United Kingdom chapter of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) filed a defamation case against ARY following several broadcasts wherein he was labeled a murderer, organized criminal and gangster. The court, however, ruled that the words were factual statements intended to defame Butt under common law. To conclude the case with Nasir Butt, NVTV presented the following apology before the London High Court:

"On 6 July 2019, New Vision television broadcast a number of programmes which contained reports that Nasir Mehmood, who is more commonly known as Nasir Butt, is a murderer, an organised criminal and important member of a drug cartel who has fled from justice in Pakistan. On July 7 2019, New Vision Television broadcast a programme which contained a report that Butt is an organised criminal. On 14 July 2019, New Vision television broadcast a programme which contained comments from The Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan that Butt had fled from justice in Pakistan.

Butt has informed us, and we are prepared to accept, that he is not a murderer, he is not an organised criminal and not a member of a drugs cartel, and he has not fled from justice in Pakistan. We apologise to Butt for the distress, upset and embarrassment which these broadcasts have caused him. We have agreed to pay Butt damages for libel and his legal costs.”

 Mir Shakilur Rahman termed 'Indian agent'

ARY, with its program Khara Sach, then hosted by Mubashar Luqman began a very aggressive campaign against Jang Group proprietor Mir Shakilur Rahman in November, 2014. It was alleged that he was an Indian agent, had connections with Mossad, worked on CIA directives and hence guilty of treason, disloyalty with state and conspiracy.

Rahman was termed traitor and blasphemer 224 and 1,800 times in 11,000 tickers and 113 Khara Sach programmes altogether in UK territory. Rahman moved court in the wake of the allegations.

The trial at the London High Court commenced in 2016 and lasted seven days. During the trial, lawyers for ARY told the court that the channel had aired accusations against Jang and Geo of working for foreign governments and agencies in response to an alleged attack by Geo. They further alleged that the aired content constituted merely ‘opinions’ and not ‘facts’.

As evidence, ARY presented a small file of unverified social media reports which was later rejected by the court. On the other hand, responding to the questions raised by ARY, Jang Group presented documents weighing 30kgs.

Handing down a verdict in favor of Rahman, the court noted that the attitude of ARY during the proceedings was aggressive, unbecoming and unacceptable. ARY chief operating officer Fayyaz Ghafoor refused to answer questions and substantiate the allegations. On the contrary, a high court judge said that Rahman was prepared to deal with the case firmly and was ready to defend the truth and face counter questions in the court.

The court ordered ARY to pay £185,000 in libel damages to Rahman for leveling defamatory allegations against him in 24 programmes which the court found libelous and baseless. Justice Sir Eady also asked ARY to pay legal fees to Rahman's lawyers as well as success fee. The judge made the decision after ARY accepted that it had no evidence to support its allegations and did not defend the allegations at all. The entire episode cost ARY Rs40 crore – around £3 million.

The judge also asked ARY to produce bank statements before the court to prove that it can pay up. A month later, on 5 January 2016, ARY applied for bankruptcy and then went into liquidation stating its inability to pay.

While announcing the judgment, the court asked ARY to air the summary of the judgment and tell its viewers that Rahman had won the case. Therefore, ARY aired the summary judgment December 23, 2016. In January 2022, ARY once again aired an apology for the allegations against Rehman in various programs aired in 2021 and 2022.

Businessman Mian Mansha falsely accused of money laundering 

ARY accused business mogul Mian Mansha of money laundering in relation to the acquisition of the St James Hotel and Club Limited in a November, 2015 Kab Tak broadcast. Mansha categorically denied the allegations terming them  plainly false and devoid of any merit.

 He filed a defamation suit against ARY in April,  2016. Despite many requests, ARY did not provide any evidence to support the allegations.

Justice Nicklin  approved a consent order in June, 2018 resolving the claim on terms that included ARY (in liquidation) agreeing to pay Mansha substantial damages of £75,000 and agreed legal costs of £200,000. The order made it abundantly clear that ARY's allegations against him were false, which not only tarnished his reputation but caused mental agony to his family.