PAKISTAN: Government must restore the arbitrarily suspended broadcast license of ‘ARY News’ with immediate effect

The government of Pakistan  through its regulatory body, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has banned a local television channel, the “ARY News” and has arbitrarily suspended its license for a period of 15 days, and  imposed a fine of Rs.10 million (approximately USD 97,000) for airing on 20th October 2014  an allegedly derogatory programme against the judiciary. Two days prior to the ban, on 17th October 2014, the same regulatory body also banned a talk show tittled “Khara Sach” (the crude truth),  hosted by Mr. Mubashir Lucman, one of ARY’s anchor personalities. The PEMRA said it was acting on the instructions of the single judge bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) who has taken the decision through a Suo Motu action.

The PEMRA, although a mere regulatory body, is infamous for working under influence of powerful groups like the military, the government, and the judiciary. In June this year, in another scandalous incident, the PEMRA suspended the license of yet another popular media channel, the Geo TV, which was the country’s leading news network, following the telecast of allegations that the head of the government’s powerful spy organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, was behind an attempt to assassinate Mr. Hamid Mir, a popular Geo TV talk show host. At the time, even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif publicly expressed support for Mr. Mir and the media channel; however the government did little or nothing and turned a blind eye at the time when the country’s powerful military establishment was pushing the government to have the channel taken off-air.

As the news of the suspension of the license was aired, a strong reaction and an outcry was generated by journalist bodies, politicians and the civil society which compelled the single judge bench of the Court to clarify, the very next day that it has never ordered the PEMRA to suspend the license of Geo TV. According to “ARY News”, Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi during the hearing observed that the Court had not issued any orders for suspension of the license of ‘ARY News’ and added that the PEMRA had misinterpreted the orders of the Court.

According to the statement issued by the PEMRA the action to ban ‘ARY News’ was in compliance with the order of the single judge bench of the Lahore High Court that ordered the PEMRA to review the talk show “Kara Such”. The Court placed restrictions on airing of this particular show and the participation of Mr. Lucman  in any other TV programme in the future. Later, in the wake of the strong protests from civil society, the politicians and journalist’s bodies,  the Lahore High Court (LHC) issued a statement to the effect that “the Court did not order for the cancellation of the license of the ‘ARY News’”. However, the Court has failed to-date to order for the restoration of ‘ARY News’ though it has issued a statement saying that the PEMRA is trying to now put the blame on the Court.

In its previous decisions the Lahore High Court has banned the programme ‘Khara Such’ and also prevented the anchor person, Mr. Lucman from participating in any future programme in any TV channel.

The single judge bench, headed by Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, opposed the actions of the “ARY News” when it aired a programme where it was revealed that the Chief Minister and Justice  Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi  have made a deal with a private company to clear the company of all its corruption charges. Justice Naqvi , then proceeded to institute ‘Suo Motu’ an action, in complete conflict of interest where he himself heard the case and ordered the warrant against the Mr. Lucman the anchor person of ‘ARY Channel’and the Chief Executive Officer of the same channel.

The freedom of expression in Pakistan has always remained under serious threat from the military, the judiciary, and the government authorities and above to all, by Muslim extremist fundamentalists. With the successive governments the reality of freedom of expression has  grown thinner and more thinner as the right guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan has been further constricted. Apart from the blatant interference by the government, freedom of expression is also being squeezed by non-state actors without any hindrance from the authorities.

As a result, journalists have been at the receiving end of most of the victimizations and every year more than half a dozen journalists are killed by un-known persons and law enforcement authorities.

Journalists and media houses along with the civil society were on the front line during the lawyer’s movement for the restoration of the Chief Justice and the restoration of the independence of the judiciary since 2007 till 2009. However, this time around, the fight for the freedom of expression has come up against the judiciary itself, it has come up against some journalists and media houses who are providing legal cover to these authorities, and it has come up against retired military bureaucrats sitting as heads of the regulatory bodies in Pakistan – so much so that to hold an opinion, to be able to discuss it and to be able to freely express such an opinion has become an impossibility in Pakistan.

In this backdrop, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the government of Pakistan to restore with immediate affect the license granted to the ‘ARY News’ and take appropriate disciplinary and legal actions against high ranking officials of the PEMRA taking such arbitrary decisions to suspend the license of the “ARY News” for suspending the license of ARY News and misinterpreting the decision of the high court. The programme of Khara such which is hosted by Mubashir Lucman must be restored.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-187-2014
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Freedom of expression, Right to life, Rule of law,