September 1st, 2020

                                       By Staff Reporter 


The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has once again suspended the license of Channel 24 News HD with immediate effect over allegedly airing hate speech.

PEMRA issued a press release on August 30 which said that the authority had issued an advisory to all TV channels on August 20 for not airing material that would damage the inter-faith harmony or any based on sectarianism and hate and that Channel 24 News HD (Central Media Network Private Limited) had in fact aired material inciting hate speech during its special transmission on August 30 without exercising any editorial control.

PEMRA claims that this was a violation of the policy advice to all channels more than a week ago. It also claims to have received complaints about the transmission, after which it suspended the channel’s license under section 30(3) of the PEMRA Ordinance, 2002.

According to PEMRA, there were chances of unrest in the country over the transmission but a show-cause notice has also been served to the channel directing it to reply within 14 days. The Shia cleric who led the transmission, Taqi Jaffar was arrested on August 31 for reciting “Ziarat e Ashura” in Karachi while the event was being covered by the channel 24 News HD.

A senior official at PEMRA told that “primarily the action was not only taken due to the social media outrage over the transmission but it was also reported multiple times at the complaint cell through phone calls”.

“We have given the channel a chance to present its stance and the authority understands that the content termed ‘hate speech’ is widely and collectively recited publicly by the Shia community during Muharram but a certain part has never been aired before this hence the action was taken as per PEMRA rules,” claims the official.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had tweeted “I want to thank our nation for the peaceful observing of Ashura in the country. However, unfortunately, information has come to me of elements who tried to ignite flames of sectarianism on this occasion and I will be taking very tough action against them.”

Previously, PEMRA had 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, and later the channel was reinstated on the orders of Lahore High Court on July 7.

PFUJ had termed the action against Channel 24 a move to silence the media and the government was also criticized over the ban but when the PEMRA official was asked if the Prime Minister Imran Khan was hinting towards Channel 24 when he said “tough action” will be taken against “elements who tried to ignite flames of sectarianism” to which the official said only the PM’s spokesperson can respond to this. However, there has been no communication between the PM office and PEMRA over the issue.

Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Dr. Qibla Ayaz says usually such sensitive matters are researched upon and discussed in the council and it would not be a bad precedent if PEMRA also started consulting the council before deciding whether any content can be declared as hate speech to counter public outrage.

“The issue has not been sent to the CII yet but the council, which is a constitutional body to give official positions on matters related to Islamic Ideology or to counter sectarian unrest. The research team of the council is ready to investigate the matter if required”, said Dr. Ayaz.

Secretary-General of PFUJ, Nasir Zaidi believes that PEMRA should have discussed the matter within its own council of complaints and should have heard all stakeholders first before taking such a harsh step.

“Although the channels should always be careful while airing sensitive content but this particular event gives an impression that PEMRA was looking for an opportunity to take action against the channel as they have a history otherwise PEMRA would have also thought about the impact of such a suspension on the workers of this media outlet,” added Zaidi.

Zaidi fears that there is a possibility of a certain group being mobilized by sectarian outfits against the channel to create a hype in order to legitimize what he calls “harsh action” by the regulatory authority.

PEMRA sources have confirmed that there has been no “official” contact with the channel yet while also tried to contact Mohsin Naqvi, the CEO of Channel 24 News HD for a comment, but his phone was switched off.