Government decides to bar television channels from giving coverage to political leaders convicted or accused of corruption

The Government of Pakistan has decided that media should not be allowed to give coverage to political leaders convicted or accused of corruption.  I meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan on July 8 directed the electronic media regulator, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to fulfill its responsibility to ensure that decided that no convicted or under-trial prisoner should be given media coverage or allowed to give an interview.

PEMRA has pressurized the managements of television channels to abruptly stop airing of interviews with leading political leaders.  Cable operators that distribute television programmes were also pressured to block three news channels including Abb Takk News, 24 News, and Capital TV on July 8, 2019.

The reason behind forcefully blocking the channels is broadcast of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Maryam Nawaz recent press conference and the extended coverage of her rally on July 6 in Lahore.

Maryam in her conference claimed that the accountability court judge Arshad Malik confessed that he had been pressurized and blackmailed to convict her father in the Al-Azizia reference.

The Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan has stated that the government has decided to conduct a detailed inquiry into the purported video of an accountability court judge and expose those behind the scandal.

Awan claimed that the video was fabricated and said recording of such a video was in violation of the code of conduct of PEMRA. The government had all the rights to take legal action against all the persons involved behind the video scandal under Pemra ordinance, while courts could also take any action against the suspects.

Dr Awan added the audio and video had been made by a media house under the supervision of Nasir Butt, who had many criminal cases of different nature pending against him.

While Judge Malik also denied the allegations of being blackmailed into convicting former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and termed the video fabricated and false and said it was made by twisting his conversations on different occasions. Malik demanded legal action against those behind the move.

The media regulator has also issued notices to 21 news TV channels for broadcasting unedited press conference. PEMRA in a Twitter post said, that the unedited live telecast of Maryam’s speech “against [the] judiciary and state institutions” was in violation of Pemra’s laws and code of conduct.

According to the media regulatory body, the telecast of such content was in violation of Section 20 of Pemra Ordinance, 2002 as amended in Pemra (Amendment) Act, 2007 read with Clause 3(l) (h,j,l), 3(4), 4(9,10), 5, 17, 22 and 23 of Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015.

Previously on July 1, an interview of former President of Pakistan and Co-chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari was also taken off air within few minutes of broadcasting on Geo News TV.

The interview was conducted by Hamid Mir, a senior journalist and anchorperson of programme Capital Talk on Geo TV. The channel at 8pm ran a ticker that the interview of Zardari that was supposed to be broadcast in prime time show of Mir, won’t be aired.

Soon after the incident Mir took to Twitter to express his concern and tweeted, “I can only say sorry to my viewers that an interview was started and stopped on Geo New[s] I will share the details soon but it’s easy to understand who stopped it? We are not living in a free country.”
In a clip of interview circulated on social networking sites, the ex-president revealed that an investigation into a big scandal, involving Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, was under way.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ) and Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) has strongly condemned the incident. PFUJ has called upon the government to investigate the incident and take strict action against those who issued the instructions to end the broadcast.

KUJ also demanded the government, parliamentarians, and media as well the human rights watchdogs to take the notice of the latest spate of the censorship that has reminded the dark era of martial laws.

The Electronic Media Reporters Association (EMRA) also condemned the closure of channels and called for unblocking of channels. The association’s President Asif Butt and Secretary Saleem Shaikh said they reject the current government’s anti-media policies and warned of a countrywide strike.