PEMRA Threatens Ban on Live Election Coverage in Pakistan

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns a threat by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to ban live television reports about Pakistan’s national elections and to impose penalties on journalists if they do not comply.

According to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), an IFJ affiliate, and reports by GEO TV and Dawn, PEMRA sent a letter of warning to the managements of private TV channels to inform them of President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to ban live TV coverage of events related to the election, set for January. No broadcasters were named in the letter.

Television programs, including live talk shows, have been told they cannot broadcast live reports, including phone-ins, about the election and topics deemed to be in breach of the PEMRA Ordinance, which was amended by Mr Musharraf after he imposed emergency rule on 3 November. Television journalists deemed to be in breach of the ordinance face three years in jail, fines of up to 10 million Rupees (about US$165,000) and cancellation of the broadcaster’s licence.

The PFUJ is alarmed that PEMRA issued the warning against violations of the ordinance, including its provisions to penalise the alleged incitement of violence via live talk shows, without identifying any media organisation.

The PFUJ’s Secretary General, Mazhar Abbas, fears the caretaker Government is using PEMRA to try to impose a complete ban on all non-state media before the elections.

“It is not only a warning but a threat to all TV channels and an attempt to silence free media,” Mr Abbas said. “The letter attempts to put pressure on channels which have already started their election coverage, including live coverage of press conferences of opposition and government parties.”

On June 6, 2007, a similar letter signed by PEMRA Director-General (Enforcement) Rana Altaf Majid, accused TV channels of violating the PEMRA code of conduct, particularly by broadcasting “incidents of terrorism, creating fear and unrest in the society” related to the sacking of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

“Intimidating letters like that sent by PEMRA are an attempt to bully journalists and media organisations into complying with an anti-media agenda,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said. “The IFJ strongly encourages PEMRA to refrain from its intimidation and obstruction of the daily work of Pakistan’s journalists.”

The IFJ also salutes journalists and media workers in Islamabad, Peshawar and Lahore who marked International Human Rights Day on December 10 by holding peaceful protests involving large numbers of print and electronic media journalists, editors, directors, presenters, lawyers, student activists and civil society members.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries