July 8, 2020
By Haider Kaleem
The Lahore High Court has suspended the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (PEMA) order banning Channel 24 on Monday.
Justice Sajid Mehmood has also directed PEMRA to present the minutes of the meeting in which it was decided to ban the channel in the court on Wednesday but today’s hearing has been adjourned for another week and PEMRA has been asked to submit its reply by July 17.
Syed Tassaduq Murtaza Naqvi, legal counsel of the TV channel told the court that his client had applied for the change of the license’s category in 2015 to PEMRA and the application’s approval was under process but chairman PEMRA banned the transmission without the consensus of all members of the authority while he had allowed other channels had allowed many license holders to change the category in the same way.
According to what the complainant’s counsel said in court, the ban was made on political grounds without his client 24 News HD, being given a right to be heard by the responsible and concerned committee.
PEMRA claims to have suspended the satellite TV channel license of Central Media Network Private Limited (Value TV illegally using the name as 24 News) with immediate effect on July 3. But as the ban was imposed after the channel had been in operation for more than five years, it raised a number of questions.
Many lawmakers, senior politicians, and civil society, including Bilawal Bhutto, Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain had strongly condemned the ban on Channel 24 News and demanded its transmission’s immediate reinstatement.
Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif, wrote a letter to Speaker Asad Qaiser, demanding that Channel 24’s ban be lifted immediately.
According to the channel’s management, the only solution they had was to lay off 965 employees on the notice of one month with their last paychecks.
President of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Sahibzada Zulfiqar believes that either the PEMRA should have immediately stopped the channel from broadcasting when they had started their transmission.
“Did they not know that the channel was illegally starting its operations? Hence, we believe that it was definitely done on the grounds of having some sort of clash with the channel’s editorial policy,” said Zulifqar, while talking to voicepk.net.
According to President PFUJ, the regulatory authority only took action when they found a technical and legal vulnerability of the channel in order to silence them because otherwise, they would face resistance from the whole journalist community including PFUJ.
He further stated that “our position is that the channel should have asked by the PEMRA to fulfill the requirements by getting their category changed in order to continue their transmission
instead of shutting it down because a massive number of journalists are already being terminated due to downsizing and PFUJ was also speaking against the closure of Peshawar and Quetta bureau of the same channel”.
He believes that the journalists were peacefully protesting outside the PEMRA offices and they were attacked in Islamabad and Lahore which resulted in minor injuries to a few journalists.
PFUJ vows to take a firm stand with any attack on media freedom even if the owners of media corporations do not have workers friendly policies, says Zulfiqar.
During the said protest, a journalist from 24 News, Sagheer Chaudhry even tried to commit suicide, but instead of accepting their demands, the PEMRA officers not only attacked the protesting journalists but a security guard also opened fire.
CPJ Asia Coordinator Steve Butler said in a statement that the news channel has been shut down due to its criticism of the government and if any administrative rules stand in the way of the channel’s broadcasting, they should be changed as soon as possible.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors has termed the decision of PEMRA as biased and said that these broadcasting of Channel 24 News HD has been going on for the last six years and the sudden ban on this TV channel is actually due to not following the certain background regulations imposed on channels because multiple other channels are also freely working despite similar notices served by the regulatory authority.
Expressing solidarity with the media, Vice-chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, Abid Saqi said that this was nothing but another attack on the freedom of the press to stifle critical voices.
“The mindset of the government is now crystal clear as it is not only trying to silence all the dissenting voices but is also intolerant of any kind of disagreement whether it is banning channels through announced or unannounced censorship, arresting leadership of the opposition parties,” said Saqi.
According to Saqi, 24 news HD was not following the government’s instructions while working hence it was banned through PEMRA.
He also said that PBC has always condemned such actions but now the civil society and conscious citizens should join hands in the form of a movement to resist this dictatorial government.
Team of voicepk.net has repeatedly reached out to PEMRA to their version and position on the issue but could not get any response, but in a statement issued by PEMRA, it claimed that the guard fired by mistake while trying to control the crowd outside the building and the bullet hit the ground without causing any damage.