Black day for Pak journalism; freedom of expression suppressed
KARACHI: Masood Raza, while speaking as host of Geo News programme ‘Aaj Kamran Khan Kay Sath’, said that Friday happened to be the black day for Pakistani journalism because the right to free speech was suppressed.
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) took a unilateral decision by suspending Geo News licence for 15 days and also imposed a fine of Rs10 million.
The licence of the country’s most favourite channel with the highest viewership was suspended. The channel has been off the air illegally for the last 45 days in 90 percent areas of the country.
Masood Raza said that the decision was made on the application of the Ministry of Defence which had been sent to Pemra on April 22. A Pemra meeting on the application was held on Friday headed by acting chairman Pervez Rathore at Pemra’s headquarters.
The meeting reviewed the advice of the Ministry of Law on the application filed by the Ministry of Defence against Geo. According to a spokesman for Pemra, the authority minutely considered the acts concerned of the laws, and taking a strong notice of violation by Geo News, unanimously suspended Geo News licence for 15 days immediately and imposed a fine of Rs10 million which is to be paid before the expiry of the duration of suspension of the licence. In case of non-payment of the amount of fine, the licence will remain suspended. Pemra also said that in case of another violation by the licence holder, proceedings for cancellation of the licence would be initiated.
Masood Raza said that a matter which could not go unnoticed was that the Geo News had not been given a hearing, and the decision was made without listening to the version of Geo News. It was important that notice should also have been taken on the fact that Geo had been off the air in more than 90 percent areas of the country illegally and in violation of Pemra laws but no notice was taken of the illegal closure which had already cost the organisation a loss of Rs2 billion. Pemra made a unilateral decision and suspended Geo News licence for 15 days. The Supreme Court had also ordered the opening of Geo channels, but the Supreme Court order was not complied with. Not only was Geo News shut down but also Geo Kahani, Geo Entertainment, Geo Tez and Geo Super had also been shut down in a majority of the country’s areas. Moreover, the vans carrying Jang Group newspapers were set on fire, reporters and editors manhandled and harassed and a senior journalist was subjected to torture in Multan.
Senior anchor Iftikhar Ahmed, while speaking in the programme, said that since Geo hit the airwaves, this was the second time that it had been put off the air.
Before the 2008 elections, Geo had been shut down for three months, and there was tremendous pressure on them but even then the team remained steadfast, they made a comeback with dignity. He hoped when they came back after 15 days, their viewership, if it was let’s say 50, would then be 80. Change was everywhere, and it was being felt by everyone. Every institution was carving a niche for itself. The judiciary had carved a niche for itself. Ditto the Parliament.
The media had a role, and it wanted to play that role. It’s the media’s role to be critical, but it’s their misfortune when they criticised individuals it was erroneously considered to be a criticism of the institutions. For example, if somebody criticized him and he attributed that criticism to be a criticism of the media then it was wrong because media and his person were two different things.
Iftikhar Ahmed said if a big organisation like theirs was destroyed, all those who had been condemning them today should remember that there would be no such thing as the freedom of the media in the country.
Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas, while speaking in the programme, said that Pemra had become a controversial body. Its modus operandi was wrong. Whether a member of Pemra was a private member or a government member, it was the government that nominated them. However, a visible split had been seen there, and even the meeting today, it was being asked whether the meeting was lawful or unlawful. Mazhar Abbas said that he did not see an end to the conflict, but he said that he felt sorry that a big group like Geo was becoming the victim of this conflict. Mazhar Abbas said that the solution was quite simple, but he suspected the government’s role to be controversial. He said that the solution lay in making Pemra an autonomous and impartial institution.
Talking to the host of the programme, the editor-in-chief of Pakistan Today, Arif Nizami, said that as far as the freedom of the press was concerned, he thought that the freedom of the owners of some channels was greater than that of the journalists. He said that there was Geo on one hand and there were those channels which were anti-Geo on the other hand.
Arif Nizami said that the voice that the journalists had been supposed to raise in this matter had not been as vocal as it should have been.