October 21, 2014
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
Office of the Prime Minister
Via facsimile: +92-51-2852663
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to express its deep concern over the recent decision by Pakistan's broadcast regulator to suspend the privately owned ARY News, which is watched by millions in the country. We urge your government to ensure the channel is immediately restored.
Such action would be in keeping with the commitments you made to our delegation, when it visited Islamabad in March, to help improve press freedom in Pakistan.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) suspended the channel's license for 15 days, effective as of October 20, over allegations that ARY was "maligning" the country's judiciary. It also ordered the channel to pay a fine of 10 million Pakistani Rupees, or $97,000, according to news reports. The suspension is due to remain in place until a hearing scheduled for November 11, according to a PEMRA spokesperson cited in various news reports. This means that, in effect, the channel could be prevented from broadcasting for 23 days.
Earlier this month, the Lahore High Court banned ARY News anchor Mubasher Lucman, host of the show "Khara Sach," from appearing on national TV as a host, observer, or participant, according to reports. ARY and Lucman are seen by many journalists in the country as pro-opposition and critical of your government, particularly in their recent coverage of the rallies calling for your ouster led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan and anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri.
Also this month, Pakistan's Supreme Court announced it will indict ARY Chief Executive Officer Salman Iqbal and Lucman for allegedly making critical remarks against the country's judiciary on a news program telecast in May, according to local news reports. The indictment is scheduled for October 30.
ARY's suspension marks the second time this year that a major television news network has been silenced by a government order, according to CPJ research. In June, the privately owned Geo News, was ordered off the air and fined by PEMRA after the channel aired allegations that the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, was behind the attack on anchor Hamid Mir. Since then, Geo has been restored to the airwaves, but its management says that distribution has significantly decreased, according to the reports. According to The New York Times, the channel has become more muted in its criticism since the episode.
Because of the PEMRA action ARY could be off air until November 11. We are concerned that despite a decision today by the High Court of Sindh to rescind the order, which was reported by news reports and ARY News Senior Vice President Ammad Yousaf, ARY will face the same problems experienced by Geo in getting back on air after the ban is lifted.
We ask that you do what is in your power to restore ARY News consistent with the pledges you made to our delegation and the people of Pakistan to promote press freedom and open media.
Dr. Nazir Saeed, Secretary, Ministry of Information Broadcasting and National Heritage
Mohammad Azam, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Information Broadcasting and National Heritage
S.M. Imran Gardezi, Director General, External Publicity Wing
Humera Azam Khan, Director General Human Rights, Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights
Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani, Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Washington D.C.
Kati Marton, board member, Committee to Protect Journalists