Political leaders speak up against govt’s intolerance for media

By: News Desk      Published: 09:51 PM, 7 Jul, 2020
Political leaders speak up against govt’s intolerance for media

Key leaders from the ruling coalition as well as the opposition parties like the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan People's Party wrote letters to Prime Minister Imran Khan and National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, calling for restoration of 24News channel's licence.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) had suspended the licence of 24NewsHD TV on July 3. As a result, the news channel went off air. The move compromised the freedom of expression in the country and put jobs of around 900 media workers at risk. However, 24NewsHD TV resumed its transmissions on Tuesday after the Lahore High Court threw out Pemra's orders to shut down news channel. 

Below is the text of the letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan by former prime minister Chaudhry Shujat Hussain, president of the Pakistan Muslim League.

“Mr Imran Khan,

Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,

Assalam-o-Alaikum!

“I’m writing this letter to you as head of an allied party. Hope you won’t take it as criticism. Rather, anything that is kept before the government for the sake of reformation is not taken as criticism. A gulf instead of an understanding is being created between the government and the media. Those who create such a gulf will lose nothing and only you will be the one at the losing end.

“The media is the fourth pillar of the state and it is vital for this pillar to be strong for stability of the state. A clash with the media is not a wise move in any circumstances. Earlier, I had informed you about the arrest of Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, editor-in-chief of Daily Jang, and now I’m writing you a letter on suspension of the licence of 24NewsHD TV. The recent action against 24NewsHD TV has strengthened the impression that the fourth pillar of the state is being targeted; the constitutional right of the freedom of expression is being usurped, while the country is already facing multiple crises.

“When I was the prime minister, the then Information Minister Sheikh Rashid came to me with a summary, recommending that anyone who submits Rs5 million fee should be given licence for a TV channel without any hurdle. I said at that time in my capacity as the prime minister that there was no need for a Rs5 million fee. An MoU should be prepared and any news against the government should be accepted with patience, but there should be no compromise on the national interest. Rather, action should be taken against the TV channel [reporting against the national interest].

“I asked Senator Shibli Faraz, who is the current information minister, a few days ago that you are son of Ahmad Faraz. I hope you will follow into your father’s footsteps because every section of the society respects your father.

“These matters can be resolved amicably. I hope you will ask the information minister to sit with the owners of the TV channels to resolve these issues. Their dues should be cleared so that media workers are paid their salaries. Moreover, the orders to suspend the licence of 24NewsHD TV should be withdrawn immediately so that media workers are saved from going jobless. Upholding the constitution and law is the solution to all problems.

“Sincerely,

Chaudhry Shujat Hussain,

President, Pakistan Muslim League”

Below is the text of the letter written to National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser by Opposition Leader in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

“Mr Asad Qaiser,

Speaker National Assembly,

Assalam-o-Alaikum!

I want you to take a look at the sheer violation of the law, constitution and democracy. This is the matter of unusual bans on media and related to jobs of the media workers. The latest example of this is the suspension of the 24News after that thousands of people have lost their jobs.

Like other sectors of the country have been affected in the country since the incumbent government has come into power, the media has also been facing devastating situations. First, the government banned advertisements taking dictatorship-like measures followed by systemic campaigns to sack the ‘not-so-favourite’ journalists. Their columns, programs were banned. Then cases were lodged against those media owners who were not stopping the criticism. The latest example was the arrest of Mir Shakil ur Rehman that has been criticized by law fraternity, Pakistan Bar Council Executive Council and from international organizations.”

This is not just related to Channel 24 but it is an overall intolerance against the media. The government’s extremism has reached its peak and the government has been using every tool to shun the media voice that is not accepting the ‘government’s truth’.

The constitution has given complete rights of freedom of expression and has been accepted as a fundamental right. The 18th amendment has cemented this clause already included in the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan.

We condemned in the strongest possible words the use of force and illegal and undemocratic ways including stone pelting, lathi charge and bullets against the peaceful protest.

As an elected representative of the opposition, I demanded that Mir Shakil ur Rehman should be released and Channel 24 suspension order should be immediately retrieved. As per law, a constitutional committee should be formed that will review the grievances of the media industry and make proposals in consultations with media organisations and representatives that would be later implemented through parliament.

I am hoping you will make a decision as per the law, democracy and state’s fourth pillar and above party affiliation or under the Prime Minister pressure.

Waiting for your reply

Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif

Leader of the Opposition the National Assembly"

Below is the text of the letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, a key leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

"Dear Prime Minister Khan Sahib,

Assalam o Alaikum,

Right to information and freedom of expression are our fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan. Over the years, the role of media has greatly expounded and it has played a very important role in highlighting issues being faced by our country.

It is most unfortunate that during the last few months, the federal government through Pemra or other organisations have attempted to control the media in an unfair and arbitrary manner only to silence any criticism against the Federal Government, which is not only contrary to the fundamental rights but also your commitment to rule of law.

In this regard, the latest act of Pemra of suspending the license of Channel 24 is a brazen act of silencing the media or any person who wishes to highlight present issues being faced by our populace. Moreover, apart from being an act to silence critique it also has the disastrous effect of creating further unemployment as the channel without its operations will not be able to pay its media workers and journalists. Similar arbitrariness has also been shown towards other TV channels in the past.

Through this letter, I would like to highlight the above issue and request you to kindly ensure that no attempts are made to violate the fundamental rights of media houses, workers and journalists and create an environment where media can work as an independent watchdog on Government.

Murad Ali Shah"

Below is the text of the letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan by Dr Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui, convener of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan. 

"Honourable Prime Minister of Pakistan,

Mr Imran Khan,

Being the largest ally of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, as we wish the government under your leadership success, we also try to inform you on time about the point of view of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan on the issues, which need attention.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan believes that a free and responsible media is extremely vital to our society and the democratic system. And we are sure that you have the same approach towards this issue. However, the recent decision to shut down 24News channel over issues relating to its licence and put the livelihood of 900 families at risk in these difficult times is a matter of concern.

Mr Prime Minister,

We believe this extremely critical issue needs your attention urgently so that media’s trust in the government is restored as well as livelihood of 900 families is saved. We believe you will pay attention to our request and take every possible step without any delay to lift restrictions on 24News channel.

Sincerely,

Dr Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui,

Convener,

Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan"