Freedom of speech is a basic human right. The Constitution of Pakistan through Article 19 ensures freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In reality, things are quite different. Various restrictions through censorship of media and the internet erect great predicaments for freedom of speech.
On Friday night, 12th August, PEMRA revoked the operating licence of ARY news. The move came after the interior minister withdrew the channel’s security clearance. ARY News is known for its pro-PTI stance, and got caught in a sticky situation after Shahbaz Gill, a PTI leader, uttered remarks that were perceived anti-state and against the limitations of freedom of speech.
PEMRA served ARY News with a show cause notice for airing content what the former deemed as “false, hateful and seditious”. The CEO of ARY News, the head of news and current affairs, two anchors and a producer was booked for sedition.
The news channel has followed a propagandist approach, and had a habit of stirring controversy through unfounded allegations, violating the principles of ethical journalism. Nevertheless, Pakistan has a long history of media censorship. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was put behind bars during the dictatorial rule of General Ayub Khan. Similarly, Ms. Fatima Jinnah was taken off air midway her speech at Radio Pakistan.
Most recently, on Feb. 20, 2022, Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi signed two ordinances that made changes to the contentious Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016. PECA was established under the pretext of protecting against fake news and online crimes including cyber harassment.
Ethical journalism is imperative for the growth of a society. It helps people look at the ground reality and learn from them. But there are certain limitations. A few weeks ago, Dua Zahra’s paternal aunt was harassed by a YouTuber for 15 minutes straight. Understandably, the struggle in our country is not for quality content, but for garnering clout. It does not, however, justify shutting down a news channel because it does not support one’s agenda. ARY News’ inclination towards PTI should not be the reason for revoking its licence. If PEMRA does not take back its order, it will set an ever lasting precedent which will greatly impact quality journalism, and highlighting the plights of regular people. Tomorrow, the opposition party can ban other “offending” media outlets using the same strategy of “reasonable restrictions” under Article 19.
The government and PEMRA has to step back, otherwise, thousands of media workers might be left jobless.
by Amna Sheikh