News

October 29, 2019

Pakistani regulator bans TV anchors from expressing opinions

A man watches television as Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks to the nation at an electronic market in Karachi on 26 August (photo: Asif Hassan / AFP).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) strongly condemns a draconian new directive from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) that effectively orders TV channels to impose prior censorship on their anchors by ensuring that they express no personal opinions.

Issued on 27 October to all licenced satellite TV broadcasters, the PEMRA directive says journalists who host TV discussions must limit themselves to “moderating” and must never express an opinion or judgement.

 

“[The] role of anchors is to moderate programmes in an objective, unbiased and impartial manner, excluding themselves from their personal opinions, biases and judgements on any issue,” the directive says. It adds: “Therefore, anchors hosting exclusive regular shows should not appear in talk shows whether their own or other channels as subject matter expert.”

 

The directive ends by referring to sections 30 and 33 of PEMRA’s statutes, under which non-compliance is punishable by a fine of up to 10 million rupees (60,000 euros) and withdrawal of the TV channel’s broadcasting licence.

 

“It is not the media regulator’s role to dictate who can express opinions during debates, or to decree what can or cannot be said,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “This grotesque PEMRA directive not only violates journalistic independence and pluralism but even goes so far as to criminalize opinions. We urge PEMRA’s members to recover a semblance of credibility by rescinding this order, whose sole aim is to intimidate media outlets and journalists.”

 

“Banned” subjects

 

As grounds for the directive, PEMRA said Islamabad high court judges had expressed annoyance with comments by TV journalists about a decision to release former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on bail. The former prime minister is one of the subjects that is implicitly “banned” by the authorities

 

The court has initiated “contempt of court” proceedings against Sami Ibrahim, a political analyst who had commented on the release and who was previously the target of an intimidation attempt by the government last June. The court issued summonses to five other journalists – Kashif Abbasi, Muhammad Malick, Amir Mateen, Hamid Mir and Arshad Sharif – without giving any reason.

 

One of these journalists, Hamid Mir, told RSF he regarded PEMRA’s directive as a “continuation of censorship” that already existed. “I not only condemn this directive but I will resist it because as a journalist it is my right not only to ask questions but also report and express myself.”

 

Pakistan is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.