The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on Friday issued a show-cause notice to TV channel News One for airing "derogatory/demeaning remarks" about federal Minister for Communications Murad Saeed "without any editorial check" in a programme.
Saeed was singled out for particular praise by Prime Minister Imran Khan for the performance of his Ministry of Communications which ranked first in a ceremony on Thursday to celebrate the top 10 best performing federal ministries.
The Pemra notice, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said that News One had aired a show, G for Gharidah, on Thursday at 10:05pm where the anchor and panelists had questioned the decision to award Saeed the top honour and made several critical and disparaging remarks about the federal minister, insinuating other factors behind the award than his ministry's performance.
The notice criticised that such "unprofessional/demeaning remarks" were aired without any editorial control or time delay mechanism in place. It added that airing such remarks "raises serious concerns on the performance of [the] channel’s editorial policy and gatekeeping tools being adopted/practiced".
Pemra said the remarks were in "sheer violation" of Pemra Ordinance 2002 as (Amendment) Act, 2007; several clauses of the Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisement) Code of Conduct, 2015 and the orders of the Supreme Court in a 2018 suo moto case.
The regulatory body directed the channel's CEO to reply in writing within four days as to why legal action including a fine, suspension and revocation of licence along with other measures should not be initiated. The CEO or an authorised representative was directed to appear before the body at its headquarters in Islamabad on Tuesday with a written reply.
"In case of non-compliance, ex-parte legal action shall be taken against the licensee in accordance with relevant provisions of PEMRA Laws," the notice warned.
Comments in question
The notice reproduced the comments made in the programme where anchor Gharida Farooqui questioned her panelists on what was the "[real] reason" for Saeed's ministry ranking first. A panelist Mohsin Baig responded that he didn't know but the reason was "written in Reham Khan's book".
Another panelist, senior journalist Iftikhar Ahmed, said: "Who is unaware of the performance and the allegations against this man at the top (Saeed)."
Meanwhile, analyst Tariq Mehmood said that some things were "self-explanatory" and asked the anchor to not prod over it since Pemra was watching.
"A book has been mentioned as well. There is nothing hidden about this that Imran Khan likes him a lot and he is a very hard working minister, is very close to Imran Khan and has once again proved that he has left all others behind in performance. So what more do you want me to say," Mehmood said.
At this, the host, Farooqui, said she did not understand what he was talking about and asked defence analyst Lt-Gen (retd) Amjad Shoaib to clarify.
"I was saying that I did not read [Reham Khan's] book but I have definitely heard Mohsin Baig. I agree with whatever he has said and can't say anything else," Shoaib said.
Flurry of condemnation
The media body's notice was not the only one to raise an issue of the comments as several ministers criticised the programme for the content aired.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the conversation between the panelists was "highly condemnable". "What kind of journalism is this? Criticism is your legitimate right but it is very sad to stray from morals under the guise of criticism," he tweeted.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari lashed out with a severely critical comment.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry agreed with a comment which called for action to be taken against the programme host and said the incident was precisely the reason why he had been trying since 2018 to bring a media regulatory law.
"It is only possible to get rid of such filth and sleaze if the Cabinet passes the [media regulatory] law," he said.
Planning Minister Asad Umar questioned what the response would have been if such comments were made about any journalist on a show. He said Saeed would continue accruing further laurels but "if we do not stop such filth from TV then destruction will spread in society."
The ruling party, meanwhile, said it was "extremely shameful" for the anchor to lead her programme with such derogatory language and called for an apology.
People in the media fraternity also criticised the programme with senior journalist Mubashir Zaidi saying that such "loose talk" could never be classified as journalism.