PFUJ, HRCP slam govt, Pemra over ban on speeches

Published October 3, 2020
A day earlier, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority had imposed a ban on broadcasting speeches by proclaimed offenders and absconders. — Dawn/File
A day earlier, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority had imposed a ban on broadcasting speeches by proclaimed offenders and absconders. — Dawn/File

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Friday criticised the government and Pemra for imposing a ban on the broadcast of speeches of ‘proclaimed offenders and absconders’.

The PFUJ has referred to the prohibition order issued on Thursday by the electronic media regulator after former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s address to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s central working committee via video link from London.

In a joint statement, PFUJ president Shahzada Zulfiqar and secretary general Nasir Zaidi said that Pemra is following double standards and taking dictation from those who are against media and the freedom of speech and expression.

The authority rejected a request to ban the broadcast of speeches of Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Allama Tahirul Qadri who have been absconding to avoid facing court proceedings for long, the PFUJ said.

It urged the government to ensure freedom of speech and expression in the country guaranteed to citizens under Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan and avoid practising double standards and interface in the working of Pemra.

“There is a need to make Pemra a true autonomous and independent body, instead of it following dictates of the government and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting,” the PFUJ statement said.

HRCP has also taken serious exception to the recent order issued by Pemra, prohibiting news channels from broadcasting interviews and public addresses by ‘proclaimed offenders and absconders’ on national television.

This step violates not only citizens’ right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Constitution, but also impinges on people’s right to know, HRCP says in a statement, adding that it believes that such orders reflect arbitrary censorship, with the very people who advocate it in one instance when it favours them, abandoning it in another when it does not.

The statement says the fact that this order follows closely on the heels of a speech by Nawaz Sharif, questioning the legitimacy of the 2018 elections, indicates that Pemra appears to be little more than a tool of political convenience rather than an objective, independent regulatory body. It is worth recalling that Pemra did not deny airtime to former president Pervez Musharraf, who is also a proclaimed offender.

HRCP has consistently pointed to growing censorship in Pakistan, even as the government claims that the press has never been more free. “We demand that this order be withdrawn immediately and that the government refrain from weaponizing censorship in this blatant manner,” it says.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2020

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