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After a decade or more of free electronic media in Pakistan – one of General Musharraf’s positive legacies- multiple attempts are now being made to gag the media’s freedom of expression and take it back to the situation it was in the 1990’s. On Wednesday PEMRA   revoked the license of Bol News and Bol Entertainment, with whom the government has had numerous run-ins over content issues. Today it being reported that a petition has been launched in the Lahore High Court that TV channels should no longer be allowed to discuss matters that were in court.

During General Musharraf’s rule, an unprecedented opening of the electronic press occurred which enabled a thriving vibrant discussion to take place in the country on issues and matters of public concern. It was the electronic media that helped to project the 2007 lawyers movement, restoration of Iftikhar Chaudhury and ultimately helped to weaken President Musharaff so much that he had to give up power.

Currently, the electronic media for the past couple of months have been involved in discussions about the political turmoil the government is presently embroiled in from the Dawn leaks to the Panama offshore scandals.

LHC petition

Advocate M.H Mujahid filed a writ petition through Advocate A.K Dogar to ask Pemra to enforce Pemra Ordinance 2002. Section 20 clause (n) of the Pemra Ordinance says, “Not broadcast any program or discussion on a matter which is sub judice.” This would implicate all television channels currently broadcasting in Pakistan with the exception of government controlled PTV.  PTV generally does not discuss any matter related to the Panama case or for that case any other matter, which is not favorable to any sitting government in control.

This attempt to manipulate the law to enforce censure on media outlets proves that where freedom of speech is concerned, Pakistan still has a long way to go to secure the rights of its citizens.

In the current political climate, TV channels are extensively covering the court battles between the government and opposition parties. If the story dominating broadcasts is the Panamagate court proceedings, in which the Prime Minister is accused of money laundering, naturally, the media would provide coverage to the judicial proceedings.

However, the argument made by the petitioner is that TV anchors have assumed the role of judges while commentators act like lawyers. But the converse way to read this is that all channels have many judges that take all shades of opinion presenting both the governments’ view and the oppositions.

Read more: Social media ban: Blasphemy or a political reason?

This attempt to manipulate the law to enforce censure on media outlets proves that where freedom of speech is concerned, Pakistan still has a long way to go to secure the rights of its citizens.

Bol News

Ironically on World Press Freedom Day, Wednesday 3rd May, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority revoked the licenses of Bol News and Bol Entertainment (Pak News) on the grounds of failing to secure security clearances for its directors from the Interior Ministry.

The decision comes after directors Shoaib Shaikh, Ayesha Shoaib Shaikh, Viqas Atiq and Sarwat Bashir did not get their security clearances approved by the Interior Ministry

“Bol News and Bol Entertainment (Pak News) have been ordered to surrender the original licenses and clear all outstanding dues,” stated the press release from Pemra.

The decision was the result of a meeting chaired by Pemra Chairman Absar Alam which was held on Tuesday at Pemra headquarters, following the recommendations put forward by the Council of Complaints (CoC) Sindh. The council had given its opinion after taking into account what Bol News had to say on the matter.

The PBA said that the launch of Bol News was an attempt to buy influence and blackmail anyone who threatens the “scam” of Axact.

The authority has instructed PakSat, a satellite telecommunications company, to stop the transmission of Bol News and Bol Entertainment (Pak News), which no longer hold Pemra licenses. All distribution networks and cable operations have also been asked to take the two channels off air.

Read More: Pakistani Govt’s War against “Social Media”?

Source of funding

The charges on the founder of Axact and Bol News, Shoaib A. Shaikh, of running a fake diploma mill were used by the Pakistan Broadcast Authority (PBA) as justification for the revocation of Bol News licenses in a statement. The PBA said that the launch of Bol News was an attempt to buy influence and blackmail anyone who threatens the “scam” of Axact.

PBA concerns regarding the importance of the source of funding for channels is admirable and in fact, they should go one step further and ask all existing channel owners to also show the source of their funding.

However, it is also important to note that Bol News, which has been running programs critical of the government, has taken the position that this is an attempt by the government to censor them. They also allege that other media organizations are using their influence to subdue Bol’s efforts to come into the mainstream.

Several prominent political and media personalities have stood up to support Bol News. There is an ongoing twitter campaign to garner support for Bol with the hashtag #BolKoBolnayDo.

It has been speculated that the government, on multiple occasions, has given under the table payments to media tycoons, journalists, and columnists.

In the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, which ranks countries by the level of freedom of speech they enjoy, has ranked Pakistan as 139 out of 180. Censure and control of the media are commonplace in Pakistan and is done through the carrot and stick policy.

It has been speculated that governments, on multiple occasions, have given under the table payments to media tycoons, journalists, and columnists to espouse their point of view. In fact, the massive advertisements placed by the government in the media is an attempt to do the same. Often unnecessary and expensive ad campaigns are run on TV channels, given especially to those channels that are in its favor. The concern the government often expresses over the social media is in fact, a concern; couched in religious terms, but actually exists because are not able to manage what is being said about them in the same way, as they have managed to control it in the print and electronic media.

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