Keep it on air

Arbitrary bans on the media can’t be defended

“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values; they’re hobbies.”

The kerfuffle over the revocation of the NOC to the ARY News network – and the subsequent move against it by Pemra – might be testing the values of defenders of the free media, but there is no way any of them can, in good conscience, oppose this rather unilateral and arbitrary decision taken, seemingly by the deep state, against one of the nation’s largest news organisations.

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Why is it testing those aforementioned values? Well, in the not so distant past, the same channel wasn’t quite so keen on press freedom itself. It had giddily cheered on the blocking of its bête noire channel across many cities throughout the country. It had even played its role in the pillorying of one of the nation’s leading English daily newspapers when it had run a story that had rubbed the powers that be the wrong way.

Furthermore, the channel was also quite economical with the truth. The libel and slander laws of the country are processed at a glacial pace by the nation’s judicial system, but in the UK, where a sister channel that rebroadcasts much of the same content, has been slapped several times by that country’s media regulator with some rather hefty fines.

Having said all this, the antidote to a channel with a penchant for lying, is a swift application of slander laws. And as far as it’s behaviour against its fellow members of the news media is concerned, it should be remembered that the rights of free media also apply to those who don’t believe in them, much like how even terrorists deserve a fair trial.

Barring a clear cut incitement to violence, there can be no ground to shut down a channel. In fact, even in that situation, there should be a heavy fine, and the individuals on the shift should be prosecuted. This summary shutting down of an entire organisation, based on a report by “the agencies”, as the interior ministry’s own notification reads, is absolutely unfair.

Editorial
The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected]

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