ISLAMABAD: The government asked Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on Wednesday to take notice of talk shows and broadcasts discussing the Mina tragedy and criticising the Saudi handling of the crisis.
In a statement issued directly to the top management of news channels through an SMS, Pemra said, “Some channels are airing programmes on Mina accident and indirectly [accusing] Saudi Arabia of mismanagement. They need to be reminded that Article 19 of the Constitution restricts comments that may affect relations with friendly countries.”
The electronic media regulator has also asked the owners and top management of media houses to look into the matter seriously.
Over the course of the past week, allegations of mismanagement have been levelled by various news channels against the Saudi government. Certain channels even broadcast “unauthentic videos” culled from social media sites, which purportedly showed the maltreatment of pilgrims’ bodies by Saudi authorities.
Second such warning issued with regard to friendly country this year
However, despite formal warnings or notices issued by Pemra in the past, there was no mention of any potential legal action in case channel operators do not adhere to the informally-issued communique.
Meanwhile, an official of the regulatory body told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the matter was quite serious for the government and if the channels did not honour the special relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, strict action could be taken against them.
The official acknowledged that no such warning had been issued to the electronic media over comments against and criticism of the US and other Pakistani allies.
“There are several reasons, but it is clear that the Americans are not too worried about criticism, whether factual or imagined,” the official added.
Also read: Pemra asks channels to exercise caution
Observers say this is the second time in five months that the government has intervened through the electronic media regulator to curb discussion with regards to Saudi Arabia.
In the first week of May, Pemra had officially directed all news channels not to air programmes that might harm Pakistan’s relations with friendly countries.
The Pemra advisory was issued following manic debates on the media in the wake of Pakistan’s refusal to send ground forces to Yemen as part of a Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi uprising there.
TV shows discussed the Yemen crisis from various angles, ranging from regional-tribal rivalries to international terrorism and the sectarian aspect of the conflict.
The Pemra notice issued at the time began by praising the Pakistani media, saying, “The electronic media’s contribution towards image building of nations is significant and the authority can very proudly say that our TV channels are playing a positive role while upholding the dignity, sovereignty of the nation and other brotherly countries.”
However, it continued, “Except the recent trends going on TV channels where they are trying to create a negative perception of brotherly countries among the masses,” without naming Saudi Arabia.
The notice issued by Pemra in May had mentioned Section 20(c) of PEMRA Ordinance 2002 (as amended by PEMRA Amendment Act 2007 read with clause (l)(o) of the Code of Conduct for Media Broadcasters provided in Schedule-A of Pemra Rules 2009.
This clause says, “No programme or advertisement is to be aired which may be detrimental to Pakistan’s relations with friendly countries.”
Published in Dawn October 1st, 2015