WASHINGTON: Pakistan should immediately unblock broadcasts of private news channels Capital TV, 24 News HD, and AbbTakk News 24/7, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Wednesday.

A day earlier, Capital TV posted a notice on Twitter stating that three channels’ transmissions had been blocked by the broadcast regulator Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra). Hours later, the Pakistan Broadcasters Associa­­tion, a private industry association, issued a statement, saying the channels had been taken off air by Pemra without being given a reason or a hearing.

The move came after the channels aired speeches on July 6 by PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz levelling accusations of corruption against officials.

Pemra has not issued any public notice about the shutdown on its website or official social media channels, and did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

“Pakistan’s blocking of the transmission of news channels is simple and blatant censorship,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator. “The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority or any other authorities responsible for this move should immediately reverse course and restore the transmissions of Capital TV, 24 News HD, and AbbTakk News 24/7.”

Mian Tahir, news director at 24 News HD, told CPJ by email that his channel had been blocked in all major cities and in other areas of Pakistan.

The blocking of the networks came just days after Pemra issued notices to 21 news channels on July 6 stating that the broadcasters had violated the regulator’s code of conduct by airing an unedited live broadcast of a speech by Maryam Nawaz, according to a tweet by the regulator’s official Twitter account.

Since the beginning of this month, a live interview with former president Asif Ali Zardari on GEO TV was terminated shortly after it began, a viral Twitter campaign under the hashtag #ArrestAntiPakJournalists was alleged to have been artificially boosted by fake social media accounts, and three journalists deactivated their Twitter accounts without stating a reason why, according to press freedom advocacy group Media Matters for Democracy, and local news reports.

Meanwhile, another global media watchdog slammed authorities over the removal of the three channels, saying the move was “indicative of disturbing dictatorial tendencies”.

Authorities say the channels were unavailable due to “technical issues”, but RSF described the outage as an act of “brazen censorship”.

“Reporters Without Bor­ders (RSF) is appalled to learn that three Pakistani TV news channels have been suspended from cable networks at the behest of the authorities in reprisal for broadcasting an opposition leader’s news conference,” the watchdog said late on Tuesday.

It went on to pin the removal of the channels on Pemra, saying “the all-powerful broadcast media regulator” takes its lead from the country’s “military establishment”.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2019