ISLAMABAD: In an unprecedented move, the Pakistan Elec­tronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) revoked the operating licence of ARY News late on Friday night after the security clearance of the channel was withdrawn by the Ministry of Interior, paving the way for the permanent closure of the TV channel.

Earlier, in a notification, the interior ministry said: “The NOC issued in favour of M/S ARY Communications Pvt Limited (ARY News) is cancelled with immediate effect and until further orders on the basis of adverse reports from agencies.”

The decision by Pemra was taken during its 172nd meeting which was chaired by re-appointed chief Saleem Baig.

Sources in the regulatory authority said Mr Baig chaired the meeting in the presence of three other members, while four members, including the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) chairman, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) chairman and the interior secretary joined the meeting via video link.

Channel vows to challenge decision in court; head of electronic media body slams ‘excessive measure’

After detailed information and background regarding the renewal of the operating licence, the working paper of the meeting said, “...Ministry of Interior vide letter dated 10.11.2021 had initially granted NOC/ security cle­a­rance for renewal of satellite TV licences of M/s ARY Comm­unication Ltd. However, the Ministry has withdrawn the NOC in respect of M/s ARY Comm­unication Ltd. (ARY News) vide letter dated 11.8.2022.”

“Foregoing in view and based on the fact that the mandatory requirement of security clearance has not been fulfilled since NOC has been withdrawn by Ministry of Interior, the request of M/s ARY Communication Ltd. for renewal of licence for another term of 15 years may be regretted by the authority,” the working paper added.

Although both the Pemra chairman and DG Tahir Shaikh did not respond to queries regarding the outcome of the meeting, sources confirmed that the auth­ority had approved the notification forwarded by the interior ministry and the electronic med­ia regulator could now “legally” shut down the channel’s transmission across the country. However, ARY’s transmission continued in many cities on Friday night, including Karachi, as the authority did not issue a formal notice in this regard.

‘Excessive measure’

The decision to shut down the news channel was met with disapproval across the board.

The ARY management condemned the ban, saying the network was being victimised by the federal government. This move is akin to the “economic murder of more than 4,000 media workers associated with the news channel”, it said, adding that the interior ministry’s notification will be taken to the courts as it was done without any due notice.

Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) President Azhar Abbas condemned it as an “excessive measure” and said such moves have never worked. He urged the government to immediately withdraw the decision.

PPP leader and ex-senator Farhatullah Babar tweeted that the use of state power “arbitrarily will backfire”. “There may be 101 good reasons but question as to who is competent to cancel, how & whether due process followed must be answered,” he said, adding, “Effects of [the] law of diminishing returns already becoming apparent.”

In a tweet, PTI leader Asad Umar said: “This is ‘purana’ Pakistan desperately trying to hang on. The tide of history cannot be stopped by coercive illegal measures.”

“Under the fascist regime, the freedom of the press is being curtailed. Journalists cannot speak freely. They face FIRs, arrests and bans are being imposed on TV channels,” PTI leader Farrukh Habib said. He added that people who were trying to suppress the freedom to speak were harming Pakistan.

PTI leader Ali Mohammad Khan said the decision by the ministry to revoke the NOC of the news channel was a “political” and “totally wrong” decision.

The interior ministry “takes decisions in the national interest to protect the state from all kinds of threats. It is not a party office to be used for political purposes”, he added.

ARY journalist gets bail

Separately, the Lahore High Court granted protective bail to journalist Khawar Ghumman in a case registered against him by the Islamabad police.

Mr Ghumman, the Islamabad bureau chief of ARY News, appeared before the court along with his counsel Abuzar Salman Khan Niazi.

His counsel argued before the court that police registered a “fake case against his client and wanted to arrest him”.

Justice Saleem Safdar Shahid heard the petition and granted Mr Ghumman interim protective bail for seven days to enable him to approach the court concerned for the pre-arrest bail.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2022

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