FOR some days now, Amir Liaquat has crossed all limits, repeatedly and egregiously. The television host has used his programme ‘Aisa Nahi Chalay Ga’ on Bol News as a bully pulpit to rouse hatred and incite violence and as a vehicle for carrying out a vicious personal vendetta. First he accused a number of individuals, beginning with the missing bloggers, and anyone else — including civil society activists and media persons — who has shown support for them and condemned their abduction, as being anti-Islam and having committed blasphemy and treason. Subsequently, he expanded the scope of his scurrilous attacks to include allegations of moral turpitude against several journalists who have a progressive stance and have censured the content of his show. On Thursday, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority barred him from appearing on screen in any capacity and ordered that the broadcast of ‘Aisa Nahi Chalay Ga’ be immediately suspended. On Friday, taking notice of the fact that the channel chose to flout the ban and air the programme as per schedule the previous evening, Pemra issued a show-cause notice to Bol News.
Even for an electronic media that quite frequently appears to have forsaken the ethics of journalism, the stream of invective and calumny spewed forth by Mr Liaquat is unprecedented. The ultra right in this country is unmistakably seeking to silence all appeals to reason and humanity by employing extremely dangerous tactics. As history bears witness, accusing anyone of blasphemy in this country is a thinly veiled invitation to murder. Indeed, the entire spectrum of allegations levelled on the programme represents crimes considered especially heinous in our society; it was calculated to intimidate and blackmail those at the receiving end by provoking public fury against them. Pemra has done well to take notice of the defamatory language and then to stand firm against the channel for defying the ban. Otherwise, in a media landscape already short on restraint, this would set another entirely undesirable benchmark. Bol News itself, being a new channel in the process of establishing its brand, should consider the impact on its credibility were it to continue with programming of such kind. That said, Pemra’s response — an open-ended, blanket ban apparently not preceded by any show-cause notice to the host — should be a cause of concern for the media. It is excessive, gives the impression of being arbitrary and can establish an unwelcome precedent in muzzling press freedom.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2017