Is Pakistan’s Ansar Abbasi being banned?

Ansar Abbasi, editor of investigations for Pakistan’s leading media group Jang, is apparently facing a de facto ban from his own employers. Other TV channels also report being told not to air his views. Abbasi has charged cable operators with spreading immoral, anti-Islamic messages through Indian movies and other popular culture broadcasts. In response, he says, they are censoring his views.

I have had my differences with Abbasi, but I consider him one of the best investigative reporters in the country. When he told me by telephone that cable operators had met with media owners, pressuring them to ban him for hurting their commercial interests, I believed him. Other sources confirmed his story. Anchors and directors, both in news and current affairs, told me that they have been told not to invite him as a guest or take his calls. Abbasi’s column in the daily Jang newspaper did not appear last week, raising suspicion that it was due to outside pressure.

He is not the only one. The Dawn media network recently withdrew a show on the morality of cable content–hosted by Pakistan’s most prominent anchor, Talat Hussain–within 10 minutes of broadcast, because of pressure from cable operators.

Though soft spoken, Abbasi has strong views about morality in the media. He wants a ban on all Indian channels and strict checks on potentially offensive content in Pakistani dramas and movies. The issue is in the public eye. Pakistan’s Supreme Court, responding to a petition filed by Abbasi and others, recently levied fines against the Pakistan Electronic Regulatory Authority for failing to regulate TV broadcasts for obscenity.

Others do not support a ban on Indian channels. They feel it up to the viewer to decide which channel they want to watch and which they don’t. However, there is a general consensus that cable operators have no right to ban any journalist or censor his column.

Cable operators, for their part, deny that they have pressured media owners to bar Ansar Abbasi or other coverage of the debate over Indian channels. Yet they have huge power. Any channel that resists risks being taken off air. As a result, many media outlets air press conferences of the Cable Operators Association uninterrupted, even at the expense of important news events.

Under these circumstances, Abbasi faces an uphill task. He certainly has a right to work freely, and censorship of his views must be recognized and condemned. Journalists need to speak up in his support–not of his views, but of his right to express those views.