New York, March 6, 2023 – Pakistan authorities must immediately rescind the ban on satellite television channels airing live and recorded speeches by former Prime Minister Imran Khan and restore the license of the privately owned television broadcaster ARY News, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On the evening of Sunday, March 5, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, the country’s broadcast regulator, issued the ban on airing Khan’s speeches, which went into effect on Monday, and warned that violators will have their licenses canceled, according to news reports.
Hours after the order was announced on Sunday, PEMRA suspended ARY News’ license for broadcasting a speech by Khan, according to those sources and ARY News CEO Salman Iqbal, who spoke to CPJ by phone. ARY News remains off the air as of Monday evening, Iqbal said.
“Pakistan’s ban on satellite television channels broadcasting former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speeches and the suspension of ARY News’ license are the government’s latest attacks on press freedom and the right to information,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities must immediately reverse these blatant acts of censorship and allow the media to report on key political developments in the country freely.”
PEMRA’s order followed a Sunday speech by Khan, head of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party who has been pushing for early elections, in which he alleged that former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had orchestrated Khan’s removal from power in April 2022, according to those sources. Before the speech, authorities unsuccessfully attempted to arrest Khan on corruption charges.
Iqbal told CPJ that although other Pakistani television channels broadcasted Khan’s speech Sunday, only ARY News had its license suspended. The outlet plans to file a petition against the suspension at the Sindh High Court on Tuesday, he said.
On Monday, Khan filed a petition at the Lahore High Court challenging the ban, according to reports. PEMRA previously banned live telecasts of Khan’s speeches in August and November 2022, and both orders were later reversed, according to news reports.
CPJ emailed PEMRA and called and messaged Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb for comment, but did not receive any replies.