Pakistan’s media regulator has banned television channels from broadcasting speeches and news conferences by Imran Khan, accusing the former prime minister of attacking the state’s institutions and promoting hatred.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) imposed the ban late on Sunday after Khan gave a speech in the eastern city of Lahore, where he alleged that former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa was behind his removal from power in April last year.
The cricketer-turned-politician made the speech after police from the capital Islamabad made an attempt to arrest him in a corruption case. Khan, who denies the charges, evaded the arrest.
In its notification, the PEMRA said Khan was “levelling baseless allegations and spreading hate speech through his provocative statements against state institutions and officers which is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order and is likely to disturb public peace and tranquillity”.
This was the third time the PEMRA has banned TV channels from airing Khan’s statements since he lost the premiership and started holding mass rallies to demand immediate national elections.
News channel suspended
Nearly two hours after the ban, the media regulator also suspended the licence of ARY News, a private news channel, for broadcasting Khan’s Lahore speech.
The PEMRA said the news channel – considered sympathetic to Khan – violated its order. But an ARY official rejected the allegation.
“The PEMRA statement came after 8pm and almost all the channels ran clippings of Imran Khan’s speech in their 9pm bulletins. However, the regulatory authority suspended only our licence,” the ARY official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan condemned the regulator’s decision to ban the airing of Khan’s speeches on electronic media.
“We have always opposed measures to curb voices in the past – whether under the previous government or earlier – and we continue to stand by our commitment to freedom of speech, irrespective of the person’s political opinion,” it said in a statement, demanding that the ban be “lifted immediately”.
‘PEMRA is a tool’
Hammad Azhar, a politician belonging to Khan’s Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, said the country was “fast descending into darkness” and there were “concerted efforts” by the government to put its democracy under threat.
“This [ban on Khan’s speeches] is not only unconstitutional as it goes against freedom of expression … There cannot be a blanket ban on speeches of politicians. Other than questions of legality, it is also extremely anti-democratic in nature,” he told Al Jazeera.
“This regime is petrified of Imran Khan and his ever-soaring popularity, he is now seen as a prime minister-in-waiting. We are seeing police action against Khan and the party workers. There is a media crackdown. We are fast becoming a fascist state.”
Former PEMRA chief Absar Alam said the implementation of law in Pakistan is flawed and the media regulator needs to improve itself.
“PEMRA has become a tool; whoever can use it often does it for their interest,” he told Al Jazeera.
Alam, however, added that the TV channels should take responsibility for what they broadcast.
“There is so much polarisation in Pakistan that one person’s virtue is another person’s sin. Unfortunately, media has amplified this a lot and they are not following media ethics or showing professionalism,” he said.
Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) last year ranked Pakistan 157 among 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index list.