Pakistan media decry de facto ban on giving airtime to Imran Khan – The Guardian

Journalists say directive on hate speech issued by regulator indirectly affects coverage of former PM
Broadcast journalists in Pakistan have decried a de facto ban on mentioning Imran Khan by name or showing his image after a series of directives issued by the country’s media regulator.
Pakistan’s parliament ousted Khan from parliament in April last year. Since then he has been making nearly daily headlines with fiery speeches and tweets directed at the government and army.
In March, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) banned broadcasts of the former prime minister’s speeches and press conferences on the grounds that he was promoting hate speech and attacking state institutions.
In May, after Khan’s arrest on corruption charges prompted nationwide protests by supporters of his PTI party, Pemra issued a directive asking media channels to refrain from providing airtime to individuals who promote hate speech. Khan was not named in the directive but journalists say it was clear the directive referred to him.
“It is ridiculous that we can report on the charges and cases against Khan but we can’t mention his name or show his pictures,” said Asma Shirazi, a senior journalist and political commentator who hosts a primetime current affairs show. “All these tactics are used to bring the media under pressure.”
Hamid Mir, a renowned journalist who has worked for newspapers and on television for decades, said history was repeating itself.
“Pemra banned speeches and interviews with [the former prime minister] Nawaz Sharif, and interviews with [former president] Asif Ali Zardari and [Nawaz’s daughter] Maryam Nawaz were not aired. Now it is Imran Khan. Nothing has changed.”
Sources in the local media said media owners have been invited to meetings with senior military officials where they were warned not to give any coverage to Khan.
A senior journalist working in TV said “it was made clear in the meeting that Khan is enemy No 1”. Another journalist working in TV said “our boss made it clear to us that if you do it [name Khan], you are on your own”.
Khan, the 70-year-old former international cricket star, is facing more than 150 cases registered against him since his ousting in last year.
Pakistan has been mired in economic and political crisis for over a year, with little respite expected ahead of an election that must be held by mid-October.
Khan appeared to be riding a wave of popularity towards those polls, holding huge rallies across the country, sweeping a string of byelections, and vilifying authorities in addresses to the nation broadcast nightly on social media. But the violence following his arrest, particularly targeting military installations, led to a sweeping crackdown.
According to Freedom Network, which monitors media freedoms, there were 24 “threat cases” against journalists in Pakistan in May.
Imran Riaz Khan, a pro-PTI journalist known for spreading propaganda and disinformation, has been missing since 11 May. Shirazi said: “He should not be missing. The law should take its course against those who promote propaganda and disinformation.”
The threats are not confined to local media. A foreign correspondent working in TV said he was asked to stop reporting on Khan.
The journalist said: “Even though past regimes have been tough on certain journalists, the present regime has come down hard on the local media … Things have gone from bad to worse.”


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