Crackdown widely condemned -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Crackdown widely condemned

ARACHI: People from all walks of life, including leaders of mainstream political, religious and nationalist parties, have strongly condemned the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) for ordering Geo Super, Pakistan’s first and only sports channel, to stop its transmission from the country.

Talking to The News on Thursday, they said Pemra was trying to gag the media at the behest of the government. By getting a sports channel’s transmission stopped, the government had not only deprived millions of Pakistanis of healthy sports activities but also given a clear message to all media organisations and journalists that it could go to any extent to suppress its criticism, they said.

Syed Haider Abbas Rizvi, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s deputy parliamentary party leader in the National Assembly, said the closure of Geo Superís transmissions was a condemnable act. He asked the government to resort to negotiations to resolve any technical issues that resulted in the closure of the sports channel’s transmissions.

“I’m not aware of the legal implications of the decision (of closing down Geo Super’s transmission), but it is not a suitable act on part of the government. In general, imposing a ban on any form of media just to punish it for criticising the government’s policies is strongly condemnable,” Rizvi maintained.

Salim Zia, senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), also criticised the government for halting Geo Super’s transmission, saying that through this act the government was trying to create hardships for the Jang Group for its principled stance on government policies.

He said his party had taken the issue very seriously and would go to any extent to protest against ‘this undemocratic act’, and would even approach superior courts to get the transmission of the channel restored.

Zia urged the Supreme Court of Pakistan to take notice of the government’s ‘illegal, unethical and undemocratic act’ and order immediate restoration of Geo Super’s transmission from Pakistan.

Amir Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Karachi Muhammad Hussain Mehnti said Geo Super was punished because the government was not feeling comfortable with Geo News and newspapers of the group highlighting its irregularities.

Lambasting the closure of the sports channel by Pemra at the behest of the government, he said Geo Super played a remarkable role during the recent Cricket World Cup matches and also provided healthy entertainment to the people.

Shahi Syed, the Awami National Party president in Sindh, deplored the closure of Geo Super by the government as an act of ‘terrorism against media’. He alleged that Pemra was acting on directives of the government.

“Terrorists deprived the Pakistani people of international matches at our playgrounds by attacking the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore and now Pemra has deprived them of sports events on TV by imposing a ban on Geo Super.”

The ANP leader asked the government to exercise tolerance in facing criticism from the media, and demanded immediate restoration of the sports channel’s transmission in the country.

Leaders of various other political parties, including the PML-Q, Sunni Tehrik, JUI-F and JUP, as well as nationalist parties also condemned the ban on Geo Super by the government, which they said was acting like ‘a fascist regime’.

Talking to The News, a former adviser to the Sindh chief minister, Sharmila Farooqi, suggested that the matter between Pemra and the Jang Group should be resolved in an amicable manner, saying that issues could always be sorted out through dialogue. She said she was fully aware that Pemra and the Jang Group had different stances. She added that the ‘PPP always believes in free, independent and unbiased media’.

Waqar Mehdi, an adviser to the Sindh chief minister, when asked to comment on the Pemra order, said that if the law was violated, then lawful action had to be taken. He said the PPP had always been against the media that targeted and singled out any party for criticism.

Mehdi said the PPP believed in the supremacy of law and independent media. He said that if at any organisation the law was violated the law would take its course and come into action at once.

Sindh Assembly Speaker Nisar Khuhro, when asked to comment on the closure of Geo Super, said he had just seen ‘some tickers’ on TV about Pemra but he was unable to make any comments because some technicalities were involved. However, he said he would like that the matter between Pemra and the Jang Group be resolved through talks. Khuhro said it is in his knowledge that some of the channels operate from abroad and they still have this choice.

Sindh Minister for Information Sharjeel Memon refused to comment on the matter, and said the PPP had boycotted the Jang Group. Meanwhile, human rights activists lambasted the government for forcing Geo Super to stop airing from Pakistan, and thus depriving millions of entertainment-starved people in the country of recreational activities.

Speaking to The News, eminent activist and former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of People, Iqbal Haider, who was in hospital when this correspondent spoke to him, said that his illness had worsened after he heard the government’s ban on the channel.

“I am utterly shocked and offended by the blatant move of the government. This is unconstitutional, unjustifiable by any standards. If I was well, I would have surely come to the television studio and thrashed this action of the government, legally.” He said that this attack on freedom of the press clearly showed that the government aimed to derail the democratic process in the country. “Also, this move is an insult to the government’s insertion of the right to information article. The channel has been actively promoting sports in the country but sadly has been shut down.”

Haider asked the government why the channel should broadcast from other countries and why the government was patronising foreign governments. “Geo has its own country which is Pakistan. Why should they operate from abroad?”

Vice Chairperson Ansar Burney Trust Sarim Burney appealed to the government to restore the channel immediately. “This is the Jang Group, the country’s largest media group, and not some shop which can be closed down whenever the government wants. The ban on Geo Super has disrupted a system, and put the livelihoods of hundreds of employees at risk.”

He said that if the government had issues with the media group, then it should resort to dialogue instead of taking such harsh steps. Burney said that the channel was providing entertainment to people in such times when the country was going through severe problems.

Anis Haroon, director of Aurat Foundation, also condemned the move of the government and said that the channel should not be a victim of politicisation. “I want to ask on what grounds the government has banned the channel.” She said that the local channel had set a new trend of imparting awareness and information about sports.

The legal fraternity also roundly condemned the ban on Geo Super, saying that gagging the channel would deprive the people of the country of sports events. Lawyers said the closure of Geo Super is a cruel joke with its viewers as, under the current gloomy atmosphere, it is the only channel providing healthy entertainment by promoting sports activities among youth and should immediately be restored,

Pemra has refused a licence to Geo Super on security clearance grounds, which is a ridiculous reason, said Vice Chairman Sindh Bar Council Mehmood-ul-Hasan. He said Pemra at the behest of the government had taken revenge against Geo News and the Jang Group for exposing corrupt people.

President Karachi Bar Association Mohammed Aqil, while condemning the closure of Geo Super as illegal, said the step would deprive the people of healthy sports activities. Secretary Karachi Bar Association Haider Imam Rizvi also condemned the closure of Geo Super, and demanded immediate restoration of the channel. He said that the government had usurped the fundamental rights of people, and termed it an attack on the press freedom.

Rizvi said that if the government says that it has not enforced a ban on the channel it should prove it by immediately restoring it. Iftikhar Javed Qazi, member Sindh Bar Council, strongly condemned the closure of the channel as an attack on the freedom of the press. The action taken by the so-called democratic government had shocked the entire nation, and the fact that the PPP government, which claimed to people’s representatives, had taken the step was ridiculous, he said.

“The ban will not only harm the channel but also hurt its viewership depriving the views of sports activities, which is highly objectionable. No one should be allowed to deprive people of their basic rights.”

Another advocate, Javed Chattari, said that it was the responsibility of the government to provide entertainment and if any private institution had taken this responsibility on its shoulders, it should be encouraged rather than punished.

He demanded that the transmission of Geo Super should be restored without any delay. He condemned the government’s interference in the media affairs, saying that Geo Super had always provided healthy activity through to the youth, who he said were already depressed over the situation in the country.

M. Waqar Bhatti, Fasahat Mohiuddin, Rabia Ali and Shamim Bano contributed to this report.
Source: The News
Date:4/8/2011