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Don’t spread fake news on state institutions — Pakistan watchdog warns in diktat to media

'Freedom of speech and expression not absolute,' says Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. Country's media fraternity condemns suspension of ARY News transmission.

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New Delhi: Pakistan has released a slew of directives to news channels asking them to refrain from indulging in “spreading misinformation and disinformation” against the state institutions. 

In its directives Tuesday, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) hinted at news reports that allegedly “cast aspersions” and “engaged in a planned propaganda campaign” to malign government institutions.

Earlier in the day, PEMRA had issued a show-cause notice to ARY News for its “hateful, seditious and malicious content”. The Pakistani news channel had gone off air in many parts of the country on Monday evening itself after it aired a programme in which Shahbaz Gill, a close aide of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan, made what the police called “statements against the state institutions”, “inciting the people to rebellion”.

Karachi Police arrested ARY News head Ammad Yousuf from his residence in the early hours of Wednesday. Later, ARY Digital Network founder and CEO Salman Iqbal and anchors Arshad Sharif and Khawar Ghuman were also booked for sedition

Several Pakistani journalists have condemned the action and sought immediate restoration of ARY News, which is currently being broadcast on YouTube.

Speaking to ThePrint, one Pakistani journalist said that these events were not new in the country struggling with media freedom. 

“Even in the previous government under Imran Khan, media professionals suffered from fear psychosis. Journalists were beaten and often threatened. Some even had to lose their jobs, and all of us have to be very careful with reportage,” the journalist said. “This government is no different. However, the speed with which it acted and slapped sedition charges has shaken the fraternity. The directives are stifling in nature, and will invite court cases in the future.” 

Accountability, the journalist added, also lies with media personnel who don’t realise when to draw a line. “They exaggerate and pick up subject matters that will surely provoke the government and people in the wrong manner. TV channels have their own loyalties. There are many channels that engage with topics similar to what ARY had chosen. It is interesting to note that they were never touched by law enforcement agencies,” the journalist added.

Speaking to ARY News Tuesday, Imran Khan condemned the arrest of his aide Gill and the suspension of the news channel’s transmission, saying it is “not acceptable in a democratic society”.

Also Read: Press freedom in Pakistan has latest casualty — the arrest of ARY News journalist

‘Trend in news channels’

There is a “trend” in the media, especially satellite TV channels, where anchors and analysts have indulged in spreading fake news on governmental institutions, the PEMRA observed.

“Such trend on channels not only tantamount to casting aspersions against state institutions but also a planned propaganda campaign against the state institutions. Airing of such content is in violation of the directives issued by the Authority, provisions of PEMRA Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisement) Code of Conduct 2015 and the principles laid down by the Superior Courts,” read the directive shared by PEMRA on Twitter.

It also highlighted how freedom of speech is not absolute in Pakistan and that there are restrictions under the law, which would be used against those flouting sentiments and spreading fake news.

“It is pertinent to mention here that freedom of speech and expression is the fundamental right of every citizen as per Article 19 of the Constitution…. However, this right is subject to restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan, or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to the contempt of court (Commission of) or incitement to an offence,” the directive added.

Also Read: Pakistan’s taking longer to gestate than others and nobody knows who’s running the country

What led to these actions

A political blame game has started between the Shehbaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government and Imran Khan’s PTI ever since Gill criticised the government on air Monday for trying to pitch the former prime minister against the Army and his subsequent arrest. 

While PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry had tweeted Tuesday that Gill was allegedly “abducted”, Pakistan Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan announced that the police have arrested Gill on sedition charges. On Tuesday, Sanaullah Khan also claimed in a tweet that a script was prepared under Khan’s supervision and was propagated by Gill on the news channel. 

A day later, an Islamabad court granted two-day custody of Gill to the police. 

Khan spoke to ARY News Tuesday about the suspension of the channel’s transmission.

“If someone breaks the law, then there must be an action. Has any show-cause notice been issued to ARY News or any reason been given for its suspension? The channel’s transmission was suspended without giving any chance to give a clarification. This is not acceptable in a democratic society. Democracy does not allow someone to take a decision solely and close the channel,” the PTI chief said. 

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: ‘Missing’ Pakistani journalist Anas Mallick located in Kabul, ambassador confirms he’s safe


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