Authorities in Pakistan suspended a mainstream television channel in what critics denounced as an illegal move to stifle media freedom in the country, the media reported.
Private Pakistani cable operators were ordered by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to block the transmission of ARY News immediately “till further notice”, VOA reported.
The state regulator later sent a formal “show cause notice” to the broadcaster, accusing it of airing “false, hateful and seditious content”. It went on to argue that ARY News aired comments early Monday on one of its shows by a spokesman for ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan which PEMRA said were “tantamount to inciting (the) ranks and files of armed forces towards revolt”.
PEMRA went on to say in the letter that “airing of such content on your news channel shows either a weak editorial in the content or the licensee is intentionally indulged in providing its platform to such individuals who intend to spread malice and hatred against the state institution for their vested interest”.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI) accused the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of sponsoring a social media campaign aimed at proving the opposition party is anti-army, VOA reported.
The TV channel rejected PEMRA’s charges as unlawful, and so did legal experts, journalists and PTI leaders.
Salman Iqbal, founder and CEO of one of the most popular channels in Pakistan, tweeted that his ARY News “gets shut down just because we reported a true story”.
Muhammad Ahmad Pansota, a lawyer and legal analyst, condemned PEMRA for suspending ARY News without any legal justification.
In a tweet, he called freedom of the press a constitutionally guaranteed right that must not be tampered with by anyone, including the state, VOA reported.
Sedition allegations, critics say, are often used to intimidate and harass media outlets and journalists critical of the powerful military institution.
Mubashir Zaidi, a prime-time television anchor, advised the government against suspending any channel, noting such an action is in violation of recent judicial orders.
“But in this case, shutdown happened ahead of the notice, and the action will be declared illegal by the courts sooner or later,” Zaid tweeted.
Media watchdogs also suspect the military is behind a recent campaign of intimidation and harassment against journalists in Pakistan — charges the government and army reject, VOA reported.