Washington, D.C., July 6, 2020 — The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority should immediately lift the suspension of independent news channel 24NewsHD, and allow it to broadcast freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On July 3, the regulator ordered the station off the air indefinitely for the alleged “illegal transmission of news and current affairs content” in violation of its broadcast license, according to a statement by the regulator on social media, as well as news reports and a report by 24NewsHD. The statement alleged that the outlet was only credentialed to air entertainment programming, not news.
The Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors, a local trade group, issued a statement reviewed by CPJ that called the regulator’s suspension “one sided,” and said 24NewsHD had been broadcasting news for “almost six years.” The outlet had broadcast coverage critical of the government, according to reports.
“The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s order to suspend 24NewsHD is a transparent attempt to shut down a voice that has broadcast critical news and commentary about the government,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator. “24NewsHD should be allowed to restart operations immediately and to change its license to allow for news broadcasting. Paperwork disputes must not result in censorship.”
Azhar Abbas, president of the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors, told CPJ via messaging app that many channels broadcast programming outside of their specific licenses, but do not petition to change their credentials because of the fees involved.
Cable broadcasts of 24NewsHD were blocked one year ago after the channel aired a speech by opposition leader Maryam Nawaz, as CPJ documented at the time. In August 2019, 24NewsHD cancelled the broadcast of the “Najam Sethi Show” amid defamation suits by Prime Minister Imran Khan, as CPJ documented.
In a message to CPJ, Sethi said he believed his show, which resumed broadcasting on 24NewsHD in March 2020, was a factor behind the station’s suspension, in addition to its critical coverage of various government policies.
CPJ emailed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority for comment, but received an error message stating that the regulator’s inbox was full.