ISLAMABAD: The chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting on Monday termed the 45-day ban on TV anchor Shahid Masood discriminatory and illegal.

Senator Kamil Ali Agha was presiding over a meeting of the committee held to discuss actions taken by the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) against various channels for violating its directions. The ban on the ARY anchorperson was also on the agenda.

Pemra informed the committee that cable operators in cantonment areas did not abide by its directives and were airing illegal contents, including that of the Indian channels. When the committee members asked why Pemra had failed to enforce its own directives, its chairman, Absar Alam, said most of the violations of its directives were reported from the cantonment areas where it could not implement its decisions.

The meeting witnessed a nasty scene when the committee and Pemra chairmen traded barbs with Senator Kamil Ali Agha terming the ban on Dr Masood ‘discriminatory’.

Mr Absar Alam told the committee that the decision was taken by the Council of Complaints, Karachi, which offered to ARY to either pay a fine of Rs1 million or apologise for the controversial programme. However, the TV channel decided to move the court.

The COC was constituted by the government to review the Pemra decisions and it is working in five major cities of the country. Responding to the allegations, Mr Alam said, “At the start of the meeting I was blamed for not taking action against anchors who were operating beyond their authority, and now you are saying that the action against an anchor was harsh and biased.”

At this, Senator Sassi Palejo walked out of the meeting in protest claiming that the Pemra chairman had violated the sanctity of the Senate. She said the arguments by the Pemra chairman reflected the mindset of bureaucracy, which was tantamount to degrading the elected parliamentarians.

However, with the intervention of other members, Mr Alam and Senator Agha exercised restraints while Senator Sassi Palijo was called back by Senator Rubina Khalid.

Meanwhile, Senator Mushidullah said neither the Senate committee nor the government wanted to ban any channel.

“But we want to implement the rule of law,” he said.

Finally, the committee decided to hold an in-camera meeting to reach any conclusion over the issue of the ban on Dr Shahid.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2016

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