Questions about exactly who is backing the new Bol TV channel have been circulating since months now, even resulting in the Interior Ministry cancelling the No Objection Certificate (NOC) issued to ‘Labbaik (pvt) Ltd’, the company that owns the channel. The Interior Ministry’s decision to withdraw the NOC came after petitioners prayed the Lahore High Court to verify the source of funding for the new channel.
The petitioner has raised serious questions in his petition especially the source of funding and whether the national institutions have performed their duties pertaining to verify the source of funding were legal or illegitimate. The most important questions were as under : Whether the State Bank of Pakistan and Federal Board of Revenue have performed their legal duties to check the source of billions of rupees that are being poured in to run the TV channel and whether the Minister of Interior and Federal Investigation Agency have checked the credentials of sponsor directors.
Few weeks later, licence was granted by PEMRA but even this only raised more questions such as why the licence was issued without proper clearances from Ministry of Interior and other agencies.
The sudden sale of ‘Labbaik’ and certain incidents in the sale of the company only raised more questions about the antecedents and identities of the backers.
The company on March 4, 2013 applied for induction of four new directors, giving justification that they wanted “to seek investment to have more financial liquidity” for the reliance. In fact, the company was sold to another company “AXACT group”, but the two – the buyer and the seller – concealed it from PEMRA. The authority on March 26, 2013 approved the induction of the ‘new management’ in the company. It is also worth mentioning that according to the PEMRA Ordinance, change of directors is also subject to approval of PEMRA. Separately, transfer of shares is also subject to PEMRA approval, but the entire shares of ‘Labbaik’ were sold without any approval from the authority.
The Labbaik is a sister concern of AXACT, with the same management, as according to the SECP record, until 27.3.2013, all the shares of Labbaik were divided between Siddique Ismael and his son Salman Siddique, but on that date, the company had new owners: Salman Siddique (original owner), Siddiq Ismael (original owner), Shoaib Sheikh (new owner) with 12,500 shares, Aisha Shoaib Sheikh (new owner) with 12,499 shares, Waqas Atiq (new owner) with 12,500 shares and Sarwat Bashir (new owner) with 12,499.
An interesting fact is that on the same date, i.e. 27.3.2013, Salman Siddique resigned as the CEO of the company and the company filed a new Form 29 with the SECP, showing that Shoaib Sheikh, who is the CEO of AXACT, shall be the new CEO of Labbaik on the same day.
It shows that on March 27, 2013, 99.9 percent of shares of Labbaik, as well as the control of the company, were transferred to persons who were not the original shareholders of Labbaik.
A new report which appeared yesterday now claims that the channel is being backed by Dawood Ibrahim and that the software company Axact which now owns Labbaik is a front company of ISI.
Axact is close to Pakistan’s security establishment. Insiders say given its software background and its links with the country’s intelligence agencies, it is seen as a good launching pad for a media channel. Axact also handled a lot of the cyber activities of the ISI, say insiders.
It has also done work for the country’s defence industry and defence housing societies, a fact that it proudly displays on the company website. Axact, however, remains a front, say insiders.
Bol TV has issued a response to the questions terming it as a ‘defamation campaign’ and threatening anyone who asks too many questions with ‘both criminal and civil charges against all those who seek to undermine this cause’.
Bol TV claims that it will be the no. 1 media enterprise in Pakistan and that it will launch a new era of high quality media for the nation. This is a praise worthy goal and it would be disappointing if it cannot achieve this feat due to lingering questions that remain unanswered. To avoid this from happening there needs to be more transparency, not threats which will only convince some people that there is something to hide. Answering the questions by publicly revealing the sources of funding will not only silence the new channels critics but give the channel greater credibility which is desperately needed at this time.