Activist Gul Bukhari has won a defamation case against ARY in United Kingdom after UK media regulatory body Ofcom ruled that ARY’s UK channel, New Vision Television (NVTV), ran fake news about a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) notice issued to her.
Gul Bukhari, a fierce critic of the establishment, has been living in London since 2019, after she was kidnapped from Lahore Cantt on 5 June 2018 and then released shortly thereafter by unknown assailants.
Gul Bukhari started her defamation complaint at Ofcom concerning damaging and disparaging remarks aired by ARY about her in February 2020.
During the broadcast in question, ARY announced that its reporter Zulqarnain Haider had a breaking news which, “a matter of instigation against the national security agencies which has brought the FIA into action. The counter-terrorism wing of the FIA has issued Ms. Gul Bukhari a notice to present herself”. The ARY reporter said that Gul Bukhari had 30 days to appear before the agency.
The reporter added, “In case of failure to present herself, a case will be registered against her under counter-terrorism [laws]. After a court order, under the treaty, Ms. Gul Bukhari will be extradited back home. Interpol will be contacted, and her property may be confiscated.”
Ms. Bukhari denied that she had been sent notice by the FIA and testified that the ‘baseless’ statements had unfairly portrayed her as involved in terrorism and violence. She also said that her family had been threatened following the false report.
After an investigation which lasted for nearly two years, Ofcom found that ARY had not taken reasonable care to ensure material facts had been presented in a way that was fair to Ms. Bukhari.
Ofcom also took the view that ARY had not demonstrated provision of appropriate and timely opportunity for Ms. Bukhari to respond to the significant allegations broadcast about her.
In its defense, ARY maintained that FIA had started a case against Bukhari in connection with views she had expressed on her personal Twitter account; specifically, a tweet she posted on 12 January 2020, which had gone viral.
ARY said it had received notice of the story from FIA, which had also been provided to other media outlets. Upon further questioning from Bukhari’s counsel, however, the FIA said it was unable to produce evidence of the notice. ARY then changed its position and said that “the news story came directly from the security agencies and was therefore trusted.”
Ofcom rejected ARY’s defence and said that, “the comments made in the programme about Ms. Bukhari were serious in nature and, in our view, amounted to significant allegations which had the clear potential to materially and adversely affect viewers’ opinions of Ms. Bukhari in a way that was unfair.”
Ofcom said that it was incumbent on the broadcaster to have given Ms. Bukhari an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond, or if that opportunity was offered and refused, this should have been made clear in the programme.
Although ARY claimed that it had tried to contact Gul Bukhari to get her version, Ofcom found that “the broadcaster had not been able to provide to Ofcom any documentary records of the attempt, or attempts, made by the programme makers to obtain Ms. Bukhari’s comments prior to the programme being broadcast.”
“Ofcom has upheld Ms. Bukhari’s complaint of unjust or unfair treatment in the programme as broadcast,” said the decision.