Geo News, one of Pakistan’s major news channels, took off air a press conference of JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Wednesday with its anchor explaining it was because the Pakistan Electronic Media Authority has banned a live telecast of the event.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, an opposition politician, is planning to march towards Islamabad in an attempt to topple Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. His “Azadi March” plans to enter Islamabad on October 31.
A manager at a news channel, requesting anonymity, told SAMAA Digital that PEMRA has asked them not to show Maulana Fazlur Rehman live.
“They haven’t issued any written order, but through WhatsApp messages (it has been conveyed) and everyone is bound to follow,” he said, adding that it is illegal to issue “written and verbal” directives to “black out” any particular party or leader.
SAMAA Digital tried to call PEMRA and PM Imran Khan’s advisor and left them messages. They did not immediately respond.
Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist and the host of Capital Talk show on Geo News, tweeted on October 12 that Pemra has “forced TV channels not to show” the press conference of Maulana Fazalur Rehman.
He said that the government was showing weakness by “imposing unannounced censorship” in Pakistan.
Another senior journalist and anchorperson told SAMAA Digital that there is no law under which Pemra could ask TV channels to blackout politicians. He, however, clarified that instructions were issued to the Pakistan Broadcaster’s Association “which comprised owners and not journalists”.
The anchorperson, who also requested not to be named, said that similar instructions were also issued for the JUI-F’s “Azadi March”.
This is not the first time a Pakistani TV channel has been barred from airing press conferences or interviews of opposition leaders.
Asif Zardari, former Pakistani president, and Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, have faced similar restrictions.
Munizae Jahangir, an anchor at Aaj News, said the current wave of censorship is not very current.
“Unfortunately, this has been going on for a while,” Jahangir said. “I would even say that during the time of Nawaz Sharif it started even then.”
When asked if the government was behind it, Jahangir said, “if the government is not behind this current wave of censorship, then why is it still happening? It should stop.”
She points a finger at “undemocratic forces” for censorship in the media.
“If you do have undemocratic forces […] influencing democracy, then you will see censorship in the media,” she added.
“It is totally illegal and naked censorship and in violation of the law of the land,” Iqbal Khattak, a representative of Reporters Without Borders in Pakistan, told SAMAA Digital. “We condemn this and urge PEMRA to defend freedom of expression instead of violating the constitution which guarantees every citizen the right to express himself or herself.”