Monday, December 18, 2023
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Singer Meesha Shafi wins initial defamation trial against UK channel

London High Court determines Meesha Shafi was defamed at the highest level by NVTV channel

Pakistani singer Meesha Shafi. — Instagram
Pakistani singer Meesha Shafi. — Instagram
  • Court says Meesha Shafi was defamed at highest level.
  • Shafi sues ARY's NVTV channel for defamation. 
  • Channel accused Shafi of not obeying court orders. 


LONDON: Pakistan’s celebrated rockstar Meesha Shafi has won the first part of her defamation case against ARY’s UK broadcaster — New Vision TV Limited (NVTV) — after a preliminary trial at the London High Court determined that she was defamed at the highest level by the channel over several broadcasts related to her harassment case against singer Ali Zafar.

Shafi — who has some of Pakistan’s biggest hit songs to her name — sued NVTV in London after being accused by the channel of failing to obey Pakistani court orders by coming to Pakistan from Canada to record Coke Studio songs and then returning to Canada instead of attending court for two years in Zafar’s defamation lawsuit at Lahore sessions court.

During the broadcast on December 5, 2020, the channel showed images of Shafi alone and with Zafar, video footage of Zafar, followed by images of Shafi in a recording studio, images of a court order, video of the sessions court complex in Lahore, images of tweets, one of which was so offensive it likened Shafi with an animal mocking and ridiculing her.

The celebrated star relied on three separate but similar segments broadcast with countless tickers repeating the defamatory statements. During one segment, it stated that: “Singer Meesha Shafi arrives in Pakistan quietly. Instead of appearing in court, she recorded songs in the studios and went back to Canada. The court had been summoning Meesha Shafi for two years over singer and actor Ali Zafar’s defamation allegations against her. Although she came back from Canada to Pakistan but recorded songs in the studio and went back to Canada instead of appearing before the court. Lahore’s session court had summoned Meesha Shafi along with her witnesses.”

In April 2018, at the height of the global #MeToo movement, Canada-based Shafi accused Zafar on social media of sexual harassment of a physical nature on multiple occasions during their friendship and musical collaborations. Her accusations took Pakistan by storm and both have been involved in litigation ever since. Zafar denies the allegations; the celebrated singer was not a part of the claim and he had nothing to do with the UK civil case.

After a trial, the Royal Court of Justice Judge Johnson declared that the words broadcast were statements of fact and meant that: “Court orders had been made over a period of 2 years requiring the Claimant (Meesha Shafi) to attend court in Pakistan for the purpose of defamation proceedings. The Claimant knew of the orders but did not comply with them. She travelled to Pakistan from Canada and instead of complying with the court’s orders as required she deliberately ignored them. She recorded a song and then returned to Canada.”

In his determination, the judge said that the following words used by the channel “threw the court orders to the winds” went beyond what the parties had set out and meant that Meesha Shafi had deliberately ignored court orders.

The judge further said that there might be some circumstances in which it may not be defamatory at common law to suggest a person did not comply with court orders, for example, if a party failed to paginate court bundles as the court required. However, in this case, the judge said the channel conveyed that the celebrated singer and activist Meesha Shafi had failed over a substantial period to comply with a court order which was not technical but fundamental as it required a party to attend court.

The judge ruled this was defamatory at common law of the singer who set the South Asian music charts on fire with her hits such as Jugni (Alif Allah), Dasht-e-Tanhai, Aya Lariye, Boom Boom, Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, Muaziz Saarif and several others.

Both parties guided the judge to the principles set out in the defamation case which Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the Geo and Jang editor-in-chief, had issued and won against ARY when considering the difficulties in assessing broadcasts in a foreign language.

Shafi’s lawyer David Lemer from Doughty Street Chambers, who was this year awarded Media Set of the Year at the Chambers and Partners Bar Awards, told the court that Shafi is a very high-profile and well-known Pakistani-Canadian personality. 

The court heard that the celebrity music icon’s career spanned more than 20 years, covering modelling, acting and music, enjoying a large following in the UK and across the world.

The lawyer told the judge the broadcasts depicted Shafi as someone who does not comply with legal requirements laid down by a court and engages in such behaviour repeatedly. He said such an assertion would tend to lower Shafi in the estimation of right-thinking people generally; it is contrary to the common shared values of our society for people to deliberately ignore court orders requiring them to attend, and to do so over an extended period.

The impression, the lawyer said, given by the broadcast was that Zafar was in the right and Shafi was running away from the court process. In reality, Shafi had never breached any court orders to attend court and always complied with the court notices and engaged with the court process throughout.

The judge ordered that there will be a further hearing to set directions for how the case will proceed to trial.

Before Shafi won the London High Court meaning trial, she complained before the Pakistani media regulator Pemra where her complaint was entertained. In that case, the star was represented by Nighat Dad, the lawyer and her all-women legal team.

“Previously Meesha Shafi won her case against a private TV channel in PEMRA. The UK court meaning trial ruling shows how TV channels maliciously ran campaigns against her for several years without any accountability and respect of national laws. The UK high court order shows that powerful TV channels in our country easily get away with ruining any individual’s public and private life without any accountability," said Dad.