Opposition lawmakers accuse govt of using Pemra to gag media

ISLAMABAD: At least two opposition parties believe that the government, through the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), is trying to gag mainstream media, saying that it is the violation of the constitution which enshrines freedom of expression as one of the basic rights.

They have urged the government to refrain from taking such measures because it will only strengthen non-democratic forces in the country.

The government replied that it was only following the constitution.

Speaking at a point of order in the National Assembly on Friday, Shafqat Mehmood of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) said that certain recent developments had clearly suggested that the newly appointed Pemra chief (Absar Alam) had been brought to control the private media.

“I am unable to understand how come Pemra can direct the media to be careful while covering the Iran-Saudi Arabia tension. Since it is a burning issue for parliament as well as for the nation, the media will certainly cover its various angles,” said Mr Mehmood.

Referring to another recent incident in which, according to the PTI lawmaker, a TV anchorperson has been slapped with a fine of Rs100,000, he said it was a dangerous trend which required to be checked at the outset. Mr Mehmood said: “Has the government decided to use this new method to put curbs on freedom of expression.”

The PTI legislator from Lahore said he and his party were opposed to this practice and sought a detailed explanation from the government as if it was being done as part of a deliberate plan.

A day before (on Thursday) Dr Nafisa Shah of the PPP, in her speech had also denounced latest actions taken by Pemra against a TV anchorperson. She said the government should refrain from such practice because it would only bring bad name to the ruling party and the country.

Talal Chaudhry, a PML-N legislator from Faisalabad whose job is to respond to criticism aimed at the government, took responsibility on behalf of the treasury benches to address concerns raised by Mr Mehmood. However, he said, whatever had been narrated by the PTI legislator made no sense.

Defending the Pemra’s directive regarding the coverage of Riyadh-Tehran confrontation, the ruling party’s MNA said it was in line with the constitution and that the regulatory authority was only discharging its duty.

He said: “Constitution categorically underlines that media must be careful while commenting about Pakistan’s relations with friendly countries.”

Clarifying the issue of imposition of a fine on a TV anchorperson, Talal Chaudhry said it wasn’t one person but a TV channel which had been penalised for not installing time delaying device in its live coverage.

Pemra on Wednesday issued a special directive to all TV channels to show caution while discussing the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The authority said that sect-based discussion was not permitted even under the National Action Plan.

In their speeches, Dr Arif Alvi of PTI and Shazia Marri of PPP criticised the government for mishandling the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

Dr Alvi said nobody was against development in Punjab, but it was unjustified to use the whole project for the benefit of one province.

Ms Marri said small provinces were increasingly becoming sceptical about the handling of the project by the federal government.

The two lawmakers also criticised the government for not calling a meeting of the Council of Common Interests, saying that it was a violation of the constitution

Speaking on a point of order, Chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Owais Leghari informed the house that on Tuesday the committee would receive in-camera briefing about the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“The adviser on foreign affairs will brief the committee, which has representation of all political parties present in the house, on Pathankot attack and Riaydh-Tehran tension,” said Mr Leghari. He was responding to queries raised by opposition benches.