‘Banning a programme is against freedom of expression’
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has barred actor Hamza Ali Abbasi and Shabbir Abu Talib from hosting Ramazan shows on Aaj TV and News One respectively, for promoting “controversial” and “sectarian” views.
The governing body banned the Aaj News programme Ramazan Hamara Iman, hosted by Mr Abbasi. In one of his recent episodes, Mr Abbasi discussed the oppression of the Ahmadi community, asking his guest whether the state could declare a community non-Muslim. During the same episode, he said he would discuss the Ahmadi community as well as the blasphemy law during the last days of Ramazan.
During the episode, Mr Abbasi said: “The community is being suppressed, but if you talk about it, people say you are from that community. I’m not Ahmadi, I’m a Sunni Muslim.”
It appears his show caught the attention of Pemra, which banned the programme on Friday.
According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Chairperson Zohra Yusuf, Pemra has recently taken a number of decisions which seemed to be against freedom of expression.
“Imposing a ban on a programme is against freedom of expression,” she said, adding that before imposing a ban, the hosts of television shows should be given an opportunity to clarify their positions. She said television hosts are also bound to follow the laws of the land.
A notification issued by Pemra ordered both channels to stop airing the two programmes, and not doing so could end with the removal of their transmission on cable.
In a statement, Pemra said it has received 1,133 complaints through Whatsapp, Twitter and over the phone, for promoting sectarianism and violence.
The notification said any programme featuring Mr Abbasi, Mr Talib or the religious figure Maulana Kokab Noorani discussing this particular controversial issue or any other such topic on any other channel will also be banned.
The three individuals have been directed to appear before the complaints council in Karachi and record their statements on June 20, after which the governing body will announce its decision.
Speaking to Dawn, the secretary general of the HRCP I.A. Rehman said no arbitrary decision should be taken. He said that while he was unaware of this particular case, “generally speaking, arbitrary decisions without providing a chance to others, are unacceptable”.
Pemra spokesperson Umair Azim said the authority floated directives and guidelines to channels regarding ‘Special Ramazan Transmissions’ on May 4. Among other things, these guidelines said that special programmes should focus on “enhancing coherence between the followers of various sects and faiths” and not “keep the rating of the programme in view only”.
“Several complaints have been received by the authority over the said programme, and they have been given a chance to clarify their position,” the spokesperson added.