ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has sought an explanation from federal Water Resou­rces Minister Faisal Vawda for a controversial act during a TV talk show and stopped him from appearing on television for two weeks.

Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information, said the prime minister had taken note of the outrage over the unacceptable behaviour and ordered action against the minister after summoning him on Thursday morning.

In a related development, the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) termed Mr Vawda’s act of carrying an army boot to the ARY News current affairs programme, Off the Record, earlier this week “very unethical”.

The authority imposed a 60-day ban, not only on the programme, but also barred its host Kashif Abbasi from appearing on any other television channel. Pemra, however, lifted the ban after receiving an explanation from the news channel.

Ammad Yousuf, an executive at ARY News, said Pemra had allowed the channel to go ahead with its show after it submitted a written reply to its order. The network received the Pemra order just after Wednesday midnight.

Pemra places a ban on host Kashif Abbasi, but withdraws the order after an explanation by the channel

“In late hours around 12.35am, Pemra issued an order in which ARY was not given a right to reply. Today we submitted our reply to Pemra, after which we were allowed to go on air,” he said.

“What Mr Vawda did in our show was his own conduct. For us, all state institutions, including parliament, judiciary and army, are highly respectable and we will never support any such act which maligns any state institution,” Mr Yousuf added.

Briefing reporters about decisions taken in a meeting of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s core committee, Dr Awan confirmed that the matter regarding Faisal Vawda had come under review and the participants “expressed their reservations over the (minister’s) behaviour”.

“The PM has sought an explanation from the honourable minister and imposed a 15-day ban on him from appearing in any talk show,” Dr Awan said.

She said the prime minister had reiterated his resolve not to allow anyone to damage the sanctity of any national institution. She quoted the prime minister as having said the armed forces were rendering sacrifices along the Line of Control and that “we’ll not let these sacrifices go waste”.

The SAPM, who earlier in the day made public the action against Mr Vawda through her official Twitter account, said she had done so on the prime minister’s directive.

The action by the prime minister came two days after Faisal Vawda, who is known for doing stunts on the media and for his belligerence against opponents, appeared in Kashif Abbasi’s programme on Tuesday night along with the PPP’s Qamar Zaman Kaira and the PML-N’s Senator Javed Abbasi. During the programme he pulled out a boot and placed it on the desk in front of the guests to heap scorn on the two opposition parties for voting in favour of the bills empowering the prime minister to extend the tenure of the three services chiefs. Both Mr Kaira and Mr Abbasi eventually left the show in protest.

Mr Vawda’s move generated a nationwide debate and received widespread criticism not only from the opposition but also from different sections of society.

Despite the backlash, Mr Vawda remained unapologetic during a talk show on another TV channel on Wednesday, but admitted that the prime minister was “unhappy” with him.

The PTI leader took responsibility for the incident, but made it clear to the host that he would not apologise for bringing an army boot to the live TV show. He said he had spoken to the prime minister and assured him that he would not repeat such behaviour.

“I am ready to have a debate whether the action to bring a boot was right or not. I brought the boot in a bag and I am solely responsible for bringing it to the show,” Mr Vawda said.

He added that he was ready to apologise only if Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz did the same for their pronouncements “against an institution”.

Replying to the criticism against him on social media, TV anchor Kashif Abbasi came up with an explanation on Wednesday that the boot was displayed on the screen for “eight to nine minutes and maybe I should have stopped it immediately”.

He defended himself by clarifying that Faisal Vawda had brought the shoe in a bag and there was no way to know what he was going to do during the programme.

On the other hand, the PML-N has called for the minister’s resignation for his “shameful behaviour on the instructions of (PM) Imran Khan”.

Marriyum Aurangzeb, the party’s information secretary, said the prime minister must ask Mr Vawda to step down in order to prove that he was not responsible for this “grotesque act”.

“It is the nation’s misfortune that people like Vawda are a part of its parliament.”

Pemra’s Order

Pemra, through its “prohibition order” issued on Tuesday night, had stated that “Mr Faisal 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,” said the order addressed to the CEO of the ARY News.

It said the “role of programme host Kashif Abbasi was quite unprofessional as he did not intervene or stop that unethical act performed by one of the panelists during a live show.

“Rather he took the entire incident casually and kept smiling/cherishing such occurrence.”

The regulator said the content aired live during the programme “prima facie appears to be a wilful attempt to debase and demean a state institution by dragging it unnecessarily in a debate.

This act of the host is also in violation of clauses 3(1)(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 broadcast or re-broadcast of programme titled ‘Off the Record’ is prohibited with immediate effect for 60 days starting from January 16.

”Appearance of host of the programme Kashif Abbasi is also banned for 60 days. During the ban he shall not conduct this show or shall not appear on ARY News or any other television channel as a guest/analyst or expert”, Pemra ordered.

The Authority also warned that if any other TV channel provided its platform to Kashif Abbasi, it shall also be prosecuted.

The recently-formed Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) condemned the Pemra order, stating that it had been issued in an “unusual haste” and without giving a chance to the channel or the anchor to explain their position.

It termed the decision against the fundamental right to a fair trial under Article 10A of the Constitution and a direct attack on the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

The Association advised anchors and producers of all shows to be more vigilant and not allow any such theatrics by guests.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2020