Govt denies gagging anchors’ voices as criticism mounts


–Firdous says order is assertion of watchdog’s code of conduct, anchorpersons ‘free to discuss anything and everything’

–Issues another notification to clarify ‘misinterpretation’ of its previous order

–Opp leaders, media bodies, and ministers slam PEMRA’s media watchdog for absurd notification

LAHORE: The government on Monday denied gagging the voices of journalists after opposition leaders, media regulatory bodies, and even ministers condemned the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (PEMRA) decision to restrict the opinions of television anchors during talk shows and to limit their role to that of a “moderator”.

The order, which was subsequently retracted, directed the anchors hosting regular shows not to appear as “experts” in talk shows on their own or other channels.

Media houses were advised to select the guests in talk shows with the “utmost care and keeping in view their knowledge and expertise in a particular subject”.

Subsequently, a notification was issued by PEMRA to clear the “misinterpretation” of its orders. PEMRA said that there is no ban on the participation of journalists in talk shows.

Though the PEMRA backtraced, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan put up a strong defence for the directives.

She said the order was a reiteration of the authority’s existing code of conduct in the light of discouragement of conjecture on-air. She, however, claimed that anchorpersons were free to “discuss anything and everything” during their “exclusive shows”.

She also seemed to be defending PEMRA later on, questioning how could a journalist be a reporter and analyst at one time.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb, while condemning the embargo on anchors, said that this measure was proof that Prime Minister Imran Khan believed in fascism instead of democracy.

She demanded that the directives by PEMRA be withdrawn with immediate effect as the order violates its own rules.

“After silencing the opposition through gag orders, shutting them out in death-row cells, shutting down the parliament, shutting down livelihoods of Pakistanis, shutting down jobs, businesses, trade and industry, PM Imran has now imposed a complete ban on speaking the truth,” she said.

The former information minister pointed out that there was no clause in the constitution that allowed such a ban. “This directive curbs the freedom of expression which is a direct violation of the constitution of Pakistan,” she added.

Media bodies, including All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) also condemned PEMRA’s decision and asked for its reversal.

It is worth noting here that the decision not only drew criticism from opposition leaders and media bodies but members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) criticised PEMRA’s directives as well.

In a tweet, PTI leader and former finance minister Asad Umar said that PEMRA should be doing a “better job” taking action against fake news and not “suppressing the rights of individuals, including anchors, to express their opinion”.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari tweeted, “Who is an “expert”? An interesting tho unintended debate has been generated – so purely at an academic non-political level: Do I need a degree in politics to be an expert on politics? I have no degree in “human rights” so should I go on TV to discuss “human rights” issues?”

“Do I need a degree in IR/Strategic Studies to discuss foreign/def policy? what degree do I need to talk about Information? Is expertise defined by a degree? Finally we have a debate at an abstract level media shd focus on! But what “experts” wld be needed for such a debate on TV?” she added in another tweet.

It is pertinent to mention here that the government has been accused of gagging media on multiple occasions. On September 17, Firdous had said in a press conference after a meeting of the federal cabinet that the government has decided to establish special tribunals to settle cases of media organisations, workers, owners, and citizens.

She had also announced that the government would get a law passed from parliament in this regard. According to her, all media-related cases would be transferred to the special tribunals, which would be bound to decide on the matter within 90 days of receiving complaints.