LONDON: Leading investigative journalist Fakhar Duaarni has won a defamation case ARY News in the United Kingdom over false allegations made on ARY News’ UK broadcaster New Vision Television (NVTV) after the Fact Focus website published Papa John’s and Bajco group story linked with General (retired) Asim Saleem Bajwa.
The UK media regulatory body Ofcom has ruled in its judgment that ARY’s UK channel had not taken reasonable care to make allegations against Fakhar Durrani and that the material facts were not presented and disregarded or omitted in a way that was unfair to Durrani. Durrani is a reporter for Pakistan’s biggest media group – The News, Geo and Jang Group. He was falsely targeted by ARY anchors and news shows.
Durrani had complained that NVTV showed his pictures on TV and projected him as a traitor to Pakistan which created serious threats to his life and his family. He told the regulator that he was linked with journalist Ahmed Noorani and Arsalan Zafar, the employee of Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and son of former SECO Chairman Zafar Hijazi, to create a false story of conspiracy against General (retired) Asim Bajwa.
Allegations against Durrani and others were made on NVTV after Ahmad Noorani published a story on Fact Focus website on August 27 2020 alleging that General Asim Bajwa’s family had amassed huge wealth in USA and the growth of the business empire of Asim Bajwa’s family has a direct correlation to the retired general’s rising career graph. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the former Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) Imran Khan, had maintained that the wealth was created by his brothers through investment in Papa John’s Pizza restaurant franchises and that there was no corruption involved.
ARY/NVTV in its news bulletin and talk shows including Power Play and Reporters labelled journalist Fakhar Durrani as a traitor. The TV channel claimed that it had exposed a troika who shared General Asim Bajwa family companies’ information to the retired Indian Military officer Major Gaurav Arya. In reality, there was no truth to these allegations and none of the journalists had passed any information to Major Arya. The ARY/NVTV also linked Fakhar Durrani with Ahmad Noorani and Fact Focus reporter Ammara Shah.
In his complaint to Ofcom, Durrani said that NVTV had falsely tried to connect him to Mr. Ahmad Noorani in a news story related to former Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) Asim Saleem Bajwa. Durrani in his complaint also said that after leaving Jang Group, Ahmad Noorani had moved to the United States in 2020 where he started his own digital platform by the name FactFocus where he has his own staff including reporters and editors. Durrani stated that he had nothing to do with FactFocus nor Noorani.
Mr Durrani further stated that NVTV’s claim that, “At no point did the report paint Mr Durrani as having acted improperly” was “plainly false”, as there was no balance or fairness in the programme, particularly in relation to how Mr Durrani’s photograph was shown.
The NVTV did not agree with Ofcom’s Preliminary View to uphold the complaint in favour of Durrani. NVTV referred to Durrani’s complaint and said that it failed to be transparent about the fact that Ammara Shah works with Noorani who works within the Jang Group with Durrani.
NVTV said that Durrani, Noorani and Ammara had been identified in the SECP’s own inquiry into the leaked information and they have a professional connection to each other.
NVTV referred to the SECP Report, which the programme makers accessed on a confidential basis saying that the document detailed the events which led to the security breach which included that Durrani had approached a named senior official at the SECP for information about four companies related to the BajCo Group on 27 July 2021, as well as setting about the manner in which Ammara and Noorani were involved.
Ofcom recognised that some viewers may have been familiar with Mr Durrani and his role as a journalist. However, Ofcom noted that Mr Durrani had not been publicly named as the author of the article published on factfocus.com, which we understood to have been published by Mr Noorani.
The ruling said: “Ofcom also considered that the manner in which Mr Durrani’s photograph appeared in the report, along with the statements made when they were shown, as noted above, was likely to have given viewers the impression that Mr Durrani had a closer connection to Mr Zafar, and the alleged theft of the Bajwa family’s personal information that enabled an application for SECP documents to be obtained, than was necessarily the case. We also considered that the repetition of the photographs of Mr Durrani in this way was likely to have reinforced this impression to viewers.”