News Update


What caused Imran Khan to vanish from Pakistan’s media?

It was a strange time. Pakistani news anchor Kashif Abbasi was discussing a court complaint brought by a lawyer against former prime minister Imran Khan on Tuesday night during his live TV program.

After introducing himself, Mr. Abbasi pauses and explains, “He filed an application under article six against Imran Khan… I apologize to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman.

We attempted to contact Mr. Abbasi, but he did not respond.

You probably had a difficult time hearing Imran Khan’s name or seeing his image in Pakistani media over the past week.

This crackdown is being carried out in the wake of his arrest one month ago on corruption charges. On May 9, protests broke out all throughout the nation as Mr. Khan was removed from an Islamabad court building. There were both calm and violent protests.

Attacks were made on military structures, including the residence of the top military commander in Lahore. The military has announced its intention to try the suspected attackers in military courts, which human rights organizations like Amnesty International have argued is against international law. The police have detained thousands of Khan supporters.

Imran Khan, the former prime minister of Pakistan, is escorted by security personnel as he enters the Islamabad High Court on May 12, 2023.
Imran Khan was removed from office as prime minister last year; elections are scheduled for late 2023.
Pakistan’s news broadcasters received a directive from Pemra, the country’s media watchdog, on May 31. The instruction goes on to remind media outlets that they must not give hate speech propagandists airtime after referencing the events of May 9.

Imran Khan’s name is not mentioned in the directive, but numerous people we spoke with at various TV stations claimed that their outlets had received the message in a straightforward manner.

They informed us that Imran Khan’s name shouldn’t be spoken, his photo shouldn’t be displayed, his voice shouldn’t be heard, and even a mention on the ticker tapes of the networks was forbidden. Mr. Khan should only be referred to by his official title as the chairman of his party, the PTI, if he needed to be mentioned at all.

The BBC was informed by two individuals that they had communicated with the owners of the TV networks they are employed by personally. They claim that senior military and intelligence authorities had summoned the owners to a meeting where they made it plain to the channels what was anticipated.

One insider who works for Pakistan TV claims, “They were told you will not run any news that bears his name and if you do you will be responsible.” All media contributors agreed to speak with us under the guise of anonymity.

The army has been contacted by the BBC for comment, but no response has yet been received. The director general of Pemra acknowledged that the order had been given, but he insisted that news outlets had not received a direction to stop discussing Imran Khan.

It’s not the first time a politician has faced a ban; remarks by Imran Khan’s political rival Nawaz Sharif were also prohibited while he was in office.

One journalist told me that censorship has always existed in Pakistan in one form or another. “The ISPR, the military’s press wing, used regularly phone me and threaten me with penalties if I discussed Imran Khan negatively.

Because the opposition leaders were imprisoned at the time, it was difficult to contact them. Now it’s difficult to get a PTI representative on. The primary distinction between Khan’s administration and the present is that the 9 May violence is now officially justified.

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Media professionals who spoke with us discussed how this legislation would impact their outlets.

“The top channels here asked: ‘How are you going to manage this?'” If they do not air any news on the PTI and instead promote government press conferences, there is a concern that the channels would lose their credibility sooner rather than later.

“A huge number of people watch TV in order to stay up to date with Imran Khan news. The audience on the day of his arrest was astronomically large.

Many of the senior leadership of the PTI declared their departure from the party after being detained and subsequently released. The restrictions on the media are only the most recent effort to curb Imran Khan’s influence ahead of an election that is scheduled for later this year.

Some people don’t agree with how this has been portrayed.

“It’s been twisted for political gains, saying that his name is banned,” claims Faisal Vawda, a former PTI leader and close Khan associate. In late 2022, he left the gathering. The Pemra order doesn’t explicitly state that this is about him anywhere in the legal text.

As stated in the country’s fundamental law, “Anyone participating in terrorism, any type of violence will not be allowed on media.

Watch the video with the caption: Khan protesters damage army sites while kidnapping peacocks.

Technically, because he was the one in charge of it, Khan fits within that situation. All of the witnesses claim that he gave them the orders.

Mr. Khan opposes that and asserts—without offering any evidence—that the intelligence services promoted the violence.

The media professionals with whom we spoke found it to be annoying.

One consistent TV news channel contributor calls it “farcical” He participates in debates regarding May 9 but is forbidden from mentioning Imran Khan.

“They ask you not to discuss the establishment’s meddling in politics when you first get there because they fear this would get them into trouble. They will just buzz you out even if you say his name due to the time delay. It simply feels like we are residing in a fear-filled environment.

The powerful military and intelligence organizations in Pakistan, known collectively as the “establishment,” are thought by many experts to be responsible for the recent crackdown.

Despite the fact that there is history behind restrictions on Pakistan’s media, which is now ranked 150 out of 180 in terms of press freedom, there are worries that recent weeks have had a long-lasting effect on free expression.

“I believe that we have lost the space we enjoyed during the Musharraf era [since 9 May]. That right to free speech was taken away, a journalist informed me. “I’ve never seen the way the military has been criticized on TV networks and in newspapers like I have in the last year.

“Now, I think it will take us years, if not a decade, to recapture that space.”

Another person adds, “This is an unprecedented level. The worst part is actually self-censorship. It causes my staff and I to question our own judgment. They come to me because of fear that they may make a mistake, such as with a header or the invitation of a certain visitor who may bring up Imran Khan or be sympathetic to the party’s plight.

“You can pick up anyone, at any time. We are under a lot of strain.


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