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EDITORIAL: In taking to task the ARY News over a contentious programme this government has amply demonstrated that when it comes to noncompliant media it can go to any lengths to punish them. The trouble with the channel started when in a telephonic conversation with one of its talk show hosts, PTI leader Shahbaz Gill made remarks that treaded on sensitive ground.

The channel was immediately taken off air all over the country, even before the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) had issued it a show-cause notice for airing “false, hateful and seditious” content based on an “absolute disinformation with a clear and present threat to national security.” Before the channel could respond to the notice, the Karachi police also arrested the head of its news and current affairs and booked its CEO along with a producer and two others for sedition.

If these actions are not vengeful enough the government seems inclined to get rid of the channel for good, directing PEMRA to cancel the NOC issued to ARY News “with immediate effect and until further orders on the basis of adverse reports from agencies”. The show-cause notice means the party concerned should explain for doing something objectionable.

Yet without allowing the channel to clarify its position the government instructed the regulatory watchdog to cancel the channel’s licence to operate. It also ignored the Sindh High Court’s order to restore the ARY News’ transmissions and restrain from suspending or revoking its licence until August 17, when the next hearing is scheduled.

It needs to be noted that bias in media is neither uncommon nor considered a threat to democratic values. As a matter of fact, in almost all democracies the media tend to take well-established positions supporting or opposing one or the other issue or a political party.

Unfortunately, our political parties when in government do not seem to give a tinker’s damn about freedom of expression or the laws of the land as long as there is an opportunity to ‘fix’ its detractor. A dangerous precedent is being set.

The Agencies’ adverse reports can also be used as a ruse to repress news channels critical of government policies and plans.

As expected, all media organisations have reacted strongly to the move to cancel the ARY News’ NOC. Pakistan Broadcasters Association as well as the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors have called for allowing the channel the right to respond to the show-cause notice and immediate withdrawal of the notification cancelling the NOC issued to it. In a joint statement, President and Secretary General of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) slammed the government for ignoring the Sindh High Court’s order to restore the channel’s transmission by 7:00pm on August 12.

The PFUJ also staged a large demonstration to show solidarity with the ARY News, demanding restoration of its transmissions failing which a countrywide agitation would be launched. The government needs to do itself a favour by stopping to act like an authoritarian regime. We are not a police state, nor must we be misrepresented as one.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Comments

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Hassan Aug 19, 2022 04:10pm
You can't compare international media bias for one party or another in other democracies to Pakistani media. They are heavily regulated so that the bias is very limited. Look at the UK OFCOM regulations for example Pakistani media is not regulated enough to international standards, is very insular in terms of news items, they don't inform and educate, utterly immature and childish at times, and is totally biased. It is a deep problem. Compare aljazeera English news channel to anything in Pakistan. Pakistani news channels are all like Fox news. This issue needs serious attention. Other than that of course what is happening to ARY is bad, they should have just got a fine if they did anything bad.
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