In what appears to be the softening of the stance of powers that be, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader Nawaz Sharif on Sunday held his first televised address after three years to make an impassioned appeal for aid as floods wreak havoc across the country.
The three-time prime minister, who has been living in exile in the United Kingdom after going to the country under the pretext of medical treatment in 2019, is banned by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) over his status as a convict and absconder.
The letter to impose ban on Nawaz speeches was issued by the media watchdog on October 1, 2020, titled “Prohibition Orders In Pursuance Of Section 27 regarding broadcast or rebroadcast of programmes of proclaimed offenders/absconders”. Therefore, news channels are restricted from airing his live speeches.
The party leader on Sunday delivered a short speech, wherein he urged the people to help those in need. His speech, though in good faith, was a violation of the ban, yet it was still allowed to be aired.
Nawaz, whose party currently leads the coalition government in the National Assembly, was declared a fugitive by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on June 24 last year for consistently avoiding court appearances. Prior to this, he was serving the 10-year and 7-year sentences handed down to him in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia references, respectively. While the high court suspended the former, the PML-N supremo was only able to secure bail in the latter on health grounds, paving the way for his departure from the country.
Although he was granted a four-week leave, which could be conditionally extendable, not much has been revealed about his medical treatment during the past few years.
Recently, Federal Minister Javed Latif held a news conference to denounce the media ban on his leader’s speeches. When asked what stopped them from repealing the ban since they were in power, he mentioned that Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb had been protesting this since day one. His apparent helplessness over the matter suggested that the government was not the one calling the shots on this issue.
There are speculations that there has been a change of heart of powers that be towards the elder Sharif and steps are being taken to allow him to return to the country as his younger sibling Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif holds on to power. The ruling party has already speculated about his return in September, and there are rumours that his cases will also be taken care of systematically.
Also read: Nawaz losing his grip on PML-N
Journalists working at various channels said that they aired the speech after they saw the state broadcaster do it. One senior journalist opined that this gesture implied that the state does not have a problem with it, therefore, if PEMRA does serve them a notice they could simply point the authority towards the state television.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Advocate Azhar Siddiqui, whose letter prompted the media watchdog to issue the directives reminding news channels not to air speeches of absconders, said that this was not only a violation of PEMRA’s orders but court orders as well.
He said that the court upheld this order when some leading television anchors challenged the ban, which means that this is the court’s stance as well. He announced that he will approach the court over this matter.
When contacted and asked about the matter, Marriyum said, “Why not, why should his speech be banned?” However, she did not respond when it was highlighted that the airing of his speech was a violation of PEMRA’s orders.