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EditorialImran goes off air the third time

Imran goes off air the third time

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has once again banned TV channels from airing Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s speeches and press conferences with immediate effect.

Those media outlets that fail to comply with the order will have their licenses suspended. The first casualty of this ban turned out to be ARY News, whose license was suspended after it aired clips of Imran’s speech at Zaman Park in its bulletin.

The prohibition order comes on the heels of the arrest warrants that were served on Imran Khan at his Zaman Park residence in Lahore.

Before the ban was slapped, Islamabad police along with their Punjab counterparts had reached Imran Khan’s residence to arrest him after Additional District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal issued his non-bailable arrest warrants on February 28 for failing to appear in person in the Toshakhana case. Imran was not present at his residence, therefore, the summons was received by Shibli Faraz instead. This would be the third ban the media regulatory authority has imposed on the former prime minister’s speeches since August 21 last year.

The first time that Pemra prohibited live coverage of Imran Khan’s speeches was in August 2022, when he ‘threatened’ Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry, the inspector general of police, and the deputy inspector general of police after the judge granted the police two-day physical custody of his former aide, Shahbaz Gill.

The ban was set aside by the Islamabad High Court on September 6 after the PTI chief approached the court.

Pemra again banned live coverage of Imran’s press conferences on November 5 when he accused Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and a senior intelligence official of hatching a plot to eliminate him without giving any evidence.

This time, the government stepped in and instructed the media regulator to lift the ban. The latest ban comes after the PTI chairman accused the government leaders of hoarding money overseas while addressing party workers outside his residence in Zaman Park in Lahore. Pemra said that Imran Khan was levelling baseless allegations and spreading hate against state institutions and officers, therefore it was exercising its powers under the Pemra Ordinance 2002 and prohibiting the telecast of the former prime minister’s speeches and press talks. It also asked TV channels to set up an “impartial editorial board” to ensure that their platform was not used by anyone for “uttering remarks in any manner which are contemptuous and against any state institution and hateful, prejudicial to law and order situated in the country.”

The PTI would be approaching the court against the ban as expected. Various PTI leaders condemned the move by Pemra, accusing the government of panicking. Former information minister Fawad Chaudhry even called on media people to knock on the doors of the court against the decision. Banning Imran Khan’s speeches from being telecast on TV channels will not serve any purpose. It certainly did not during the last two instances. The party will likely get relief from the court. However, what needs to be looked into is whether the TV channels are effectively ensuring the time delay mechanism. If at all, Pemra thinks a violation is being committed, it could proceed accordingly, but slapping a blanket ban on the PTI chief is not the answer.

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