NVTV libel claim dismissed: footage not in fact broadcast

Murray J finds for Defendant on preliminary issue

In a judgment handed down on Tuesday 24 August 2021 Murray J has ruled that the Claimant Mr Farhan Junejo failed to establish at a two-day preliminary issue trial in March 2021 that New Vision TV Limited broadcast the footage on 18 September 2018 at 02:12 GMT over which he had sued NVTV in libel.

The Claimant is a Pakistani national living in the UK who acquired British citizenship in March 2010. Between 2009 and 2012 he served as a Director to the Pakistani Minister for Commerce. He has various business interests. The Defendant has since 2017 exercised the exclusive right to broadcast content in the UK produced by ARY – the leading Pakistani TV channel.

On 17 September 2018 the Claimant and his wife Binish Qureshi were arrested by the UK’s National Crime Agency. The NCA has subsequently taken no further action against them. The arrests attracted significant media coverage in Pakistan and in turn through Pakistani media channels broadcast here.

The Claimant’s case was that the Defendant had broadcast here some ARY coverage that named him and so with reference to the narrative given about his arrest implied that he had been guilty of fraud and theft of money from the Development Authority of Pakistan (‘TDAP’) in 2013, had been guilty of laundering the funds stolen from TDAP to Dubai, America and Switzerland and that there were grounds to investigate whether the Claimant was guilty of further money-laundering in London of the proceeds of his crime. The Defendant’s case was that it had not broadcast the footage in question but instead had at the relevant time been playing commercial or promotional material.

Three witnesses for the Defendant explained the editorial and technical steps taken by the Defendant with the cooperation of ARY (in Pakistan) to ensure that the footage was not broadcast here – because the Defendant wished not to identify the Claimant in the context of the arrest unless or until his name was officially confirmed.

The Claimant himself gave evidence – although he had not seen the alleged broadcast by the Defendant. He also called his wife’s first cousin Mr Sarfraz Durrani who gave evidence that he had been watching the Defendant’s channel here at the relevant time and that “…the news went crazy naming Farhan”. However the Judge rejected Mr Durrani’s account as implausible since by the time the Defendant was alleged to have broadcast the Claimant’s name for the first time the Claimant had been connected for several hours by other media with the story on multiple Pakistani news sources available in the UK.

The Judge concluded that in giving his evidence Mr Durrani had most likely fallen prey to the unconscious influence of the pressure of litigation on his recollection as discussed in R (Dutta) v GMC [2020] EWHC 1974 at [39]-[40]. The Judge was of a similar view in respect of the Claimant’s other potential witness – his mother-in-law Mrs Shaista Qureshi – who was not in the end called to give evidence even though a witness statement from her had been served.

The full judgment on BAILII can be found here.

Jonathan Barnes QC of 5RB for the Defendant instructed by Gresham Legal.