PEMRA’S knee-jerk reaction to ARY host Kashif Abbasi’s show on Wednesday night was yet another example of the electronic media regulator’s misplaced assertion of authority.
It had initially banned the show for 60 days but better sense seemed to have prevailed last night when Mr Abbasi was allowed to continue as usual. In an angry response to PTI minister Faisal Vawda, who had crossed all bounds of decency during Mr Abbasi’s show, Pemra declared that Mr Vawda, “performed [a] very unethical act” and his arguments were “not only extremely frivolous and derogatory but also an attempt to debase a state institution”.
On the other hand, the host of the show, the notice charged, “was quite unprofessional who actually did not intervene … rather took the entire incident casually and kept smiling/cherishing such occurrence”. Although the immediate danger may have passed, Pemra should refrain from endangering the constitutionally protected right of freedom of speech in future. It should not be allowed to ban journalists for “smiling/cherishing occurrence”.
Much worse has been aired on TV channels without Pemra batting an eyelid. People have been spewing hate speech laced with racism and misogyny and have resorted to rabid character assassination but that somehow escapes the watchful eye of Pemra’s content monitors.
A TV host was, however, summarily banned because he did not stop a minister from ridiculing institutions.
Something is clearly amiss.
This may have to do with the regulator failing to act independently, and not upholding the standards of professionalism or appreciating freedom of speech. This is why all too often Pemra wades into a controversy of its own making and then has to beat an embarrassing retreat.
Last year, it issued a notice banning anchors from going to other shows and then was forced to take it back when it was scolded by the Islamabad High Court. The authority would be well-advised to reconsider its ham-handed approach because it does not stand up to scrutiny.
The regulator should think twice before issuing such notices in the future.
Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2020