Pakistan Press Foundation calls for the immediate lifting of the ban on addresses by former prime minister Imran Khan and the suspension of the ARY News television channel
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) condemns the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (PEMRA) decision to ban the broadcast or rebroadcast of speeches or press talks by former prime minister Imran Khan and to take ARY News off the air for sharing clips from an address by Khan.
PPF calls on PEMRA to immediately rescind the ban and ensure respect for free expression.
Such steps, including the ban on addresses by a key political leader and taking action against a broadcaster for airing his address, are likely to have a chilling effect on Pakistan’s already censored media landscape. PPF emphasised that is not the responsibility of a broadcaster to censor what political leaders say, instead, it is their responsibility to keep the public informed about key developments in the country. As the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, one of the major political parties in Pakistan, the ban on Khan’s addresses will deprive the public of vital information.
PEMRA has imposed similar restrictions on addresses by key political leaders in the past and continues using unilateral blanket bans to suppress speech it deems unacceptable. Such sweeping restrictions encroach on the public’s access to information, making it difficult for the media to cover vital political developments.
In a prohibition order dated March 5, PEMRA stated: “Mr Imran Khan in his speeches/statements is continuously alleging state institutions by levelling baseless allegations and spreading hate speech through his provocative statements against state institutions and officers which is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order and is likely to disturb public peace and tranquillity.”
Last year, in August 2022, the regulatory body banned the broadcast of live speeches by the former premier and permitted the broadcast of his speeches only with a delay mechanism.
The current directive has banned all broadcasts of Khan’s addresses and speeches, whether live or recorded. PEMRA noted that an effective time delay mechanism was not utilised; hence all broadcast was prohibited.
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry announced that the order would be challenged in court.
In addition to the ban on Khan’s addresses, the broadcast of ARY News was also banned. As per PEMRA, ARY News broadcast clips of Imran Khan’s speech at Zaman Park in Lahore during its 9 pm bulletin on March 5. As per the network, other channels had also aired Khan’s statement but “discriminatory action” was taken against ARY News.
The Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) rejected the ban on Khan’s addresses terming it a “violation of basic fundamental rights”. AEMEND, in a statement, said that Pakistani Constitution allows everyone to speak and write within the legal framework and that in the event of a violation, the state and institutions have to act in accordance with the law.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) condemned the ban. In a statement shared by ARY News, PFUJ President Afzal Butt said that there was no provision in the law to “punish” a channel without issuing a notice.