Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has banned the broadcast of anchorperson Kashif Abbasi's programme 'Off the Record' on ARY News for 60 days following Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) minister Faisal Vawda's outlandish stunt on the show.
On Tuesday night, Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda appeared on Abbasi's show alongside senior PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira and PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi, during which he used a boot to heap scorn on the PPP and PML-N for voting in favour of the recently passed Army Act in parliament.
The next day, as criticism poured in from opposition leaders as well as people on social media, Vawda said that Prime Minister Imran Khan was "not happy" over his action. While appearing in a Geo TV programme in the evening, he took responsibility of the incident but made it clear to anchor Hamid Mir that he would not apologise for bringing the boot to a live TV show.
Meanwhile, Pemra banned the broadcast and rebroadcast of Abbasi's show effective from today (January 16).
According to Pemra, during the programme under discussion, one of the panellists (Vawda) "performed [a] very unethical act" while starting his arguments on the subject being discussed.
"Subsequently, arguments made by Mr Vawda were not only extremely frivolous and derogatory but also an attempt to debase a state institution," the notification dated Jan 15 read.
"Whereas, role of programme host Mr Kashif Abbasi was quite unprofessional who actually did not intervene or stopped (sic) that unethical act performed by one of the panellists during a live show rather took the entire incident casually and kept smiling/cherishing such occurrence," it said, adding the media body was taking this action under Section 27(a) of the Pemra Ordinance 2002 as amended by Pemra (amendment) act 2007.
Section 27(a) of the ordinance states: "Broadcasting or re-broadcasting or distributing any programme or advertisement if it is of the opinion that such particular programme or advertisement is against the ideology of Pakistan or is likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquillity or endangers national security or is pornographic, obscene or vulgar or is offensive to the commonly accepted standards of decency."
Subsequently, the media regulatory body said that Abbasi's appearance is also banned for the 60-day period. According to Pemra, Abbasi cannot conduct his show, appear on ARY News or any other television channel as a guest/analyst or expert.
Pemra said the content aired during the live programme "appears to be a wilful attempt to debase and demean a state institution by dragging it unnecessarily in a debate".
"The act of the host is also in violation of clauses 3(l)(e,j), 4(7)(b), 4(10), 5, 13 and 17 of Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015, read with Section 27(a) of Pemra Ordinance 2002 as amended by Pemra (Amendment) Act 2007," the notification stated.
As per Pemra, in case of non-compliance by the television channel, action can be taken under Pemra laws "which may result in suspension/revocation of satellite TV channel conferred to M/s ARY Communication Pvt Ltd ARY News".
Rights group Amnesty International South Asia said that the ban was a violation of Abbasi's rights to freedom of expression.
"Journalists in Pakistan should be allowed to do their jobs freely and without fear. The ban must be lifted immediately," AI said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, a petition against Vawda was submitted in a sessions court in Lahore.
What went down
Vawda appeared on ARY News' 'Off the Record' on Tuesday night. Mid-programme, while discussing PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, Vawda pulled out a boot and plonked it on the desk in front of the guests. Both Abbasi and Kaira eventually left the show in protest.
During the show, while responding to a question regarding Nawaz's health, Vawda said that "shameless" people stoop to any level.
He said that no deals were being made.
"In order to save your theft and to escape the country [...] you laid down and gave respect to the boot. You have announced this," he said as he pulled out an actual boot. "In every programme, I will keep this with me, this is today's democratic N-League."
“You [the PML-N] should have given it respect earlier like we have been doing,” he said, referring to the boot he was holding.
The host, Abbasi, joked that he thought Vawda was pulling out a gun, a reference to an earlier stunt by Vawda, but in fact he had "pulled out something even more dangerous".
"You are talking against them (armed forces’ personnel) even when they embraced martyrdom. Today, when it comes to their loot and plunder Maryam Nawaz and Nawaz Sharif should hold this (the boot) and tell the people that we will respect the boot and do everything (to save us)," Vawda said.
The PTI minister did not spare PPP and asked why it took back the amendments it had proposed earlier in services chiefs’ legislation.
A visibly offended Kaira said that Vawda meant that the PPP and the PML-N had voted for the Army Act not on the request of the PTI government but under the pressure of the army. Vawda clarified that this was not what he was saying.
"He came with a lot of fervour and put the boot here and created a mockery of the army," Kaira said.
At one point, Abbasi asked Vawda who the boot belonged to, to which he said: "Ask them (PPP and PML-N)". He eventually removed the boot, in response to which Kaira wryly remarked that he should leave it on the table.
Opposition lashes out
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb claimed Vawda had acted on Prime Minister Imran's instructions and urged the premier to seek his (Vawda's) immediate resignation from the ministry and his National Assembly seat.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Aurangzeb said: "It is the misfortune of Pakistan that people like Faisal Vawda are part of the Parliament and cabinet."
However, former law minister and PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah, while appearing on another TV show on Tuesday night, said that the entire nation was witnessing activities of "jokers", adding that "the government wanted to make a joke of the army as an institution".
PPP leader Sherry Rehman also condemned Vawda's behaviour. "This can’t be normalised, no matter what the point of the parody," she said in a tweet. "Disappointed and disgusted that public discourse has sunk to this level."
"It is everyone's right to critique another's actions but this, this plumbs new depths. Cheap thrills just got a whole lot cheaper," she added.
Clips of the PTI minister's stunt were circulating on social media on Wednesday morning, with trends such as #PTIDisrespectArmy, #FaisalVawda and #Kashif Abbasi trending on Twitter.
While some PTI supporters were seen praising the minister on social media, others expressed regret over the episode and criticised the minister for dragging armed forces by creating an avoidable controversy.
Additional reporting by Rana Bilal and Javed Hussain