On one hand, the government is announcing amnesty offers to Baloch dissident leaders – while, on the other, it is warning the media not to air the sentiments of those very leaders.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has warned seven major news networks against airing interviews of “disgruntled Baloch sardars” without editorial control, which, according to the authority, amounts to sedition.
A press advice issued by the authority on Saturday stated that the channels’ licenses could be revoked if “programmes detrimental to Pakistan’s existence or may incite hatred and violence against country” continued to air.
The advice was issued in the backdrop of recent TV talk shows in which exiled Baloch leaders, such as Brahmdagh Bugti and Hyrbyiar Marri, expressed their views on the Balochistan issue.
The advice stated: “In the garb of highlighting Balochistan issue, the interviews of disgruntled Baloch sardars are being aired by all major news channels without any profanity delay or editorial control.”
“The discussions not only amount to sedition but are also against explicit provisions of Rule 15 (1) of Pemra Rules 2009,” it added.
Pemra spokesman and general manager Fakhruddin Mughal denied that the advice was reminiscent of the dictatorships of General Ziaul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf. “These programmes look like they were recorded in Washington or Delhi and the anchor persons are some foreign agents,” said the Pemra spokesman.
“The views of people like Brahmdagh Bugti and Hyrbyiar Marri were not opinions rather they were abuses for our state and this behaviour of TV channels could not be tolerated,” he added.
He went on to warn that the license of the channels could be revoked or they could be slapped with a heavy fine.
“The owners of these TV channels just shrugged off our advice. But we are going to issue another notice to a TV channel that is propagating against Pemra on this issue,” said the Pemra spokesman.
‘Pemra not sole custodian of national interest’
However, the TV networks’ operational staff was defiant in the face of the fresh warnings. “This is not the first time Pemra is using arm-twisting tactics and trying to bully the media; but they must realise that people must know all shades of opinion,” a news executive of one of the private TV channels said on condition of anonymity.
“This is not the time of press advices and regulatory bodies having their will imposed on the private media. Pemra is not the sole custodian of national interest. Let the people watch and decide what is in favour of the country and what is not.”
He further added, “In the presence of huge government PR machinery in the form of the ministry of information and the PID, a regulatory body armed with a revoking clause is just too much”.
No harm in ‘request’, says Awan
Meanwhile, despite the warning, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan played down the Pemra warning, saying that there was no harm if the media is requested to ensure balance.
According to a statement, Awan said that the government does not “intend to curb media freedom, as democracy and media independence go hand in hand”.
Democracy without media freedom cannot flourish, she added.
The minister further said that the Pakistan Peoples Party strongly believes in freedom of expression and media but the freedom must be coupled with responsibility and in conformity with societal norms.
The credit of lifting curbs on media imposed by the previous dictatorial regime goes to the present government, she said. Awan further said that Pemra has always framed laws to facilitate media, not put curbs on media freedom. She further said that there is no harm if the request is made to media to preserve the sanctity of religions, any sect, ethical values, morality and decency. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM APP)
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2012.