KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: The Sindh High Court on Saturday suspended an interior ministry notice until Aug 17 that cancelled security clearance of ARY News.

A bench comprising Justice Adnan Iqbal Chaudhry also issued notices to the interior secretary, the chairman of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, a federal law officer and other defendants for the hearing on Aug 17.

On Saturday, the ARY News management filed a lawsuit in the high court challenging an interior ministry notice issued on Aug 11 directing Pemra to cancel the NOC issued to ARY News “with immediate effect and until further orders on the basis of adverse reports from agencies”.

The counsel said the SHC directed Pemra on Aug 10 to restore the transmission of ARY News and restrained it from suspending or revoking the channel’s licence until Aug 17. However, that order was not complied with and instead the ministry issued the notice to Pemra, he said.

Media organisations demand channel be restored immediately

He asserted that Saleem Baig was reappointed as Pemra chairman on Aug 12 and he proceeded to call a meeting of the regulatory body on the same day in which he withdrew ARY News security clearance and declined its application pending for the renewal of its broadcast licence in view of the notice issued by the ministry.

The ARY’s counsel argued that the channel’s application for licence renewal was pending with Pemra since September 2019 and the ministry already issued a security clearance on Nov 10, 2021. He contended that security clearance was cancelled in bad faith, politically motivated and aimed at stifling the right of free speech. He said Pemra chairman was appointed overnight without any advertisement apparently to “fix” the channel.

Pemra lawyers, along with a deputy attorney general, argued that the suspended notice was not unsubstantiated and the underlying adverse reports received from agencies would be shared with the court and requested that no interim order be passed until such time.

Media bodies slam govt

Meanwhile, media bodies have slam­med the government‘s move to ban ARY News and demanded the authorities restore the channel. Expressing concerns about the cancellation of ARY News’ NOC, the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) in a statement asked the authorities to follow due legal process and give the channel an opportunity to explain its position.

“The PBA has always supported responsible journalism and freedom of expression within the parameters of the Constitution. Any violations of the electronic media code of conduct endorsed by the Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan must be dealt with by following the legal process,” it said.

The Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors has also demanded the government immediately withdraw a notification cancelling the NOC issued to ARY News and noted that the government’s decision had put the jobs of hundreds of workers in jeopardy.

In a joint statement, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) President Afzal Butt and Secretary General Arshad Ansari noted that the government had ignored the Sindh High Court’s order to restore the TV channel by 7pm on Aug 12.

The PFUJ also held a large demonstration outside the ARY’s Islamabad office to show solidarity with the channel. Mr Butt has said the journalists’ body would launch agitation across the country if the channel was not restored.

“It is feared that the negative report of the agencies could be used as a justification to strangle other TV channels in the future,” the PFUJ said.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2022

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