ISLAMABAD: Even as confusion reigns among news channels regarding the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (Pemra) latest directives, the regulator has begun the strict implementation of its recent orders to curtail coverage of all 72 banned organisations.

Pemra issued directives on Nov 2, stating, “All satellite TV channels / FM radios are strictly directed not to give any kind of coverage to any proscribed organisation.”

But in contrast with past practice, Pemra has also begun implementation on this decision through regular monitoring, which has left media professionals confused.

“We received an advisory from Pemra after the Sundar Industrial Estate incident asking us not to show footage of Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) volunteers,” Dunya TV Director News Mohammad Usman told Dawn.

“We are following the directives, but this will only add to the confusion in the long run,” he added.

Channels sent advisories asking them not to show footage of FIF workers at Lahore building collapse site

The confusion stems from the fact that in Lahore, FIF volunteers were seen working very closely with the authorities to rescue those trapped under the rubble of the fallen building.

FIF is a welfare organisation affiliated with Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, leader of the Jamaatud Dawa (JUD). The JUD, FIF and Lashkar-e-Taiba have been placed on the list of proscribed organisations under a UN Security Council resolution.

To set the record straight, Pemra also forwarded the list of 72 proscribed organisations, which included 60 groups banned by Pakistan and 12 falling under various UNSC resolutions, to media houses.

While the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) declined to comment on the situation, many media personnel said that they had been shown Supreme Court orders that allowed these organisations to continue with their routine activities and said that these groups also demanded media coverage.

“We were told that the Islamabad administration had granted Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat permission to take out a procession while it is placed at number 32 on the list of banned organisations,” said a news controller from an Islamabad-based TV channel. “Now, what should we do in such a situation,” he asked, rhetorically.

Although Pemra has been lenient over the issue in the past, acting chairman Kamaluddin Teepu told Dawn that news broadcasts, including current affairs programmes, would be strictly monitored to ensure that banned groups do not get coverage.

“We want to curb the glorification of terror groups. Many such groups maintain a soft image by taking cover behind religious activities or philanthropy,” he said, adding, “Eventually, the roots of terrorism have to be eradicated.”

He added that the list of banned groups had been prepared by the interior ministry after through deliberations, while those declared proscribed under UNSC resolutions were forwarded by the Foreign Office.

“We are only the implementing authority and we intend to implement the law in letter and spirit,” he said.

When asked about the confusion prevailing among media circles, Mr Teepu said that channels needed to use their “professional expertise” and make judgments based on “good intentions”.

The US has also expressed concern over the blanket ban on news coverage for militant groups.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby recently said in a press briefing that there was a balance to be struck between the fight against terrorism and media freedom.

“The US regularly discussed with all its partners the importance of balancing the fight against terrorism with the imperative to preserve civil liberties, including freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” he added.

Sach TV Controller News Zameer Haider said they had decided to stick to the Pemra directives.

“There will be no coverage of any kind for any person affiliated with the organisations on the list of proscribed groups and we will not air the claims of any terror organisation that they make following an activity.”

He said that gradually both mediapersons and viewers would adjust to this and the parties themselves would realise that would not be covered anymore.

“This Pemra directive is not an issue for us,” said Mehar Abbasi, an anchor at DawnNews. “There is already no coverage of any kind for banned groups, nor do we invite guests who are in any way affiliated with them.”

Knowing the organisation’s strict policy, she said, leaders of banned groups did not ask them for coverage either.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2015

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