PAKISTAN: Show cause notices against four television channels must be withdrawn 

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which is an official organisation to monitor electronic media, has issued notices to four television channels, Geo News, Dawn News, News One and Dunya News, for being irresponsible and provoking anti-national sentiments among viewers by ‘over sensitizing’ events unnecessarily. These notices were issued after the incident of the terrorist attack on PNS Mehran, a naval base in Karachi, Sindh province, where terrorists, with the help of naval officers, entered the base and killed more than seven persons, destroyed sensitive installation equipment including aircraft and fought for 13 hours.

PEMRA, said in its statement that, “It was being observed that some news channels did not realize their journalistic responsibility and ethics towards society, institutions and country. Some news channels even went overboard in maligning the role of security agencies, armed forces and state institutions.”

Through PEMRA, the government keeps itself behind the scene and used different kinds of tactics to ban the Geo TV which has been against the policies of the government for several years now. On many occasions Geo was served with notices and its two channels were prevented from broadcasting, including one sports channel. Lately, on June 6 the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered PEMRA to lift the ban from the Geo Sports and grant it permission to relay its programs.

This time the government, disliking the free discussions on the different channels, took the opportunity of maligning the media for provoking anti-national sentiments, especially against the security forces of the country. According to a PEMRA press release, some of the talk shows and programs of these channels were observed to be in violation of Section 20 of the PEMRA Ordinance 2002 read with Rule 15 of PEMRA Rules 2009 and clause (1) (d) (g) (h) of Code of Conduct set out in the Schedule-B of PEMRA Rules 2009.

However, PEMRA failed to provide any evidence on the programs of the channels which were served the notices except for one, again to the same channel, Geo News, where a man gave evidence that there was a strong group which attacked the naval base and that the group will carry out more attacks in Islamabad including one against a high profile target. PEMRA claimed that the eye witness was later proved false. But immediately after the evidence was provided by the eye witness the government unearthed plots to assassinate President Asif Zardari and attack a hospital in Islamabad. In this connection the government arrested more than eight terrorists for plotting to kill the President.

PEMRA’s objection is on the open discussions through the electronic media and television channels of the failure of the security forces (the armed forces) for securing sensitive installations. Also, they were probably embarrassed by the revelation that the navy was running marriage halls inside their bases which was bringing in extra earnings though illegal means. The media was also criticizing the incident at Abbottabad where Osama Bin Laden was captured by the unilateral action of USA forces and the fact that the Pakistani security forces were unable to trace the air space violation. The open discussion on the performance of the security forces, in the context of the latest incidents were very much welcomed as the people of Pakistan were demanding fair inquiries into the incidents. It was also noted publically that a sizeable amount of the country’s GDP and annual budget is spent on the armed forces without any discussion in parliament or accountability.

This lack of accountability provides a sacred coverage to the armed forces for its poor performance. It also provides them with impunity for the unabated human rights violations and running of torture cells inside their bases and cantonments and the extra judicial killings of innocent people. The Asian Human Rights Commission has documented many cases of torture and extra judicial killings in the illegal detention centers and in the private torture cells run by the armed forces. The government has ignored these reports and not conducted any kind of inquiry into those human rights violations. Contrary to its non-transferable responsibility to the people of Pakistan the government has proved itself subservient to the armed forces. Thus, when any open discussion is heard on the failings of the armed forces the government suppresses it through its regulatory body by intimidation.

The government should must stand by the country’s Constitution and respect the freedom of expression and allow the media to be a strong pillar for democracy and tolerance in the society. PEMRA’s action of issuing show cause notices to the different television channels is therefore a violation of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression. Their action, which is obviously supported by the government, is also in violation of the norms of a democratic and civilized society. Pakistan has ratified the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) but on the other hand she is undermining article 19 of the Covenant which says that every one shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kind, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

The AHRC urges the government of Pakistan to immediately withdraw the notices issued to Geo News, Dawn News, News One and Dunya News, and allow freedom of expression according to the Constitution of Pakistan and the ICCPR. The government, for the promotion of democratic norms, should encourage the media to arrange open discussions on the performance of each and every institution of the state and remove the blanket impunity granted to the armed forces and the intelligence agencies. The excuse of national security must not be used to undemocratically silence the people.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-075-2011
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Freedom of expression,