December 3rd, 2020 

By Rehan Piracha 


Senior journalists and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) have severely criticized the government and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) over airing excerpts of former federal minister Ishaq Dar’s interview on national news channels despite a ban on broadcasting speeches of proclaimed offenders. Following the uproar, PEMRA on Thursday, December 3, 2020, issued show-cause notices to channels that had broadcasted excerpts of the interview.

Speaking on Aaj TV’s show Spotlight with journalist Munizae Jahangir, senior journalist Hamid Mir said that under PEMRA orders interviews of convicted and proclaimed offenders could not be broadcast by news channels in the country.

Interestingly, PEMRA had issued its first order in this regard against the interview of Ishaq Dar in May 2019 and in continuation of this order the authority issued its second order in October 2020 against the broadcast of speeches of Nawaz Sharif, said Mir. The Ishaq Dar interview could not have been broadcast under the PEMRA orders, he added.

However, Hamid Mir said, some news channels still broadcast excerpts from the interview while one channel ran the whole interview with Urdu subtitles. PEMRA took no action against the news channel for violating the ban, he said. The senior journalist also pointed out that the government and the authority were selective in their approach in dealing with such matters. He said that the country was witnessing the worst period of unannounced censorship, adding that Pakistan had gone down in the ranking of press freedom last year as well as this year.

Another senior journalist Sohail Warriach said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had been very vague about his views of free press in the country. Warriach said that PM Khan had lived in the West and has spoken about the free press there but has not taken criticism from the media at home especially when it is about his party, government and his personality. He said that the prime minister accuses journalists of indulging in yellow journalism whenever they raise questions on his conduct, rather than accepting that being a public office holder, the press had a right to raise such questions.

He added that the PM should acknowledge that the media has been in a squeeze under his tenure and that there is enforced as well as self-imposed censorship in the country, adding that the present situation is akin to that seen during the military regimes in Pakistan.

Journalist and analyst Zahid Hussain said that PEMRA had not been the independent regulatory body as it had been  envisioned under the laws. He said the government had instead used the body to allow or ban content of its choosing to meet its political objectives. He said allowing the airing of Ishaq Dar’s interview is a continuation of the government policy of keeping PEMRA under its control.

Meanwhile speaking to, PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar said that the government has made PEMRA ‘a joke’, adding that the authority would now never be taken seriously by anybody.

“PEMRA can never claim to be an independent body; rather it is a tool of the government,” Zulfiqar said.

Senior lawyer Mansoor Awan said that the airing of the Ishaq Dar interview by news channels has raised questions over the system. In his view, the apex courts can take notice of the violation by PEMRA as a petition against the PEMRA ban was being heard in the Islamabad High Court. He said PEMRA should itself take note of the violation otherwise it would cast doubts over the authority’s independence.