Under the democratic Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) government, Pakistanis on Saturday experienced what even dictatorial regimes would think twice about doing. In an unprecedented step he Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) ordered private TV channels to go off-air during operation launched by police and other law enforcement agencies against participants of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah sit-in.
Before the closure the authority did issue some guidelines (advice) that asked Television channels that TV channels should exercise utmost care while discussing the religiously sensitive matters in their news and current affairs programmes adding that news channels were directed for at least four hours to refrain from telecasting live footages of the troops and of the operation at Faizabad. The PEMRA guideline also cited certain clauses of the authority’s code of conduct that prohibit live telecast of any ongoing security operation by the law enforcement agencies and to ensure that no content is aired which is likely to incite, aid, abet, glamorize or justify violence, commission of any crime, terror or leads to serious public disorder. On the day of the operation the authority issued one final written warning saying that, ‘The licensee shall ensure that: there is no live coverage of any ongoing security operation by the law enforcement agencies and licensee shall air only such information as may be warranted by the security agency incharge of the operation.’ The transmission of all news channels were taken off air shortly after the written warning on directives of federal government.
The guidelines issued by the authority were indeed comprehensive and should been followed. There is no denying the fact that when it comes to journalistic ethics Pakistani electronic media has much to learn. However, the blanket ban on news channels instead of taking off air certain channels that were violating the authority’s guidelines was a condemnable step. 200 million people across Pakistan were deprived of their right to information which resulted in spread of rumours as people were completely in the dark as to what is happening in the country.
The government in an even more dictatorial step also blocked social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube throughout the country, which eliminated the remaining source of news. The steps taken by the government during the operation with regards to electronic media and social media websites are a matter of serious concern.