The Arrests Of ARY Journalists Prove That The Axe Falls On The Head Of The Media Once Again

The Arrests Of ARY Journalists Prove That The Axe Falls On The Head Of The Media Once Again
In yet another attempt to stifle media freedom in the country, Vice President ARY News Ammad Yousaf was arrested from Karachi in the early hours of Aug 10. He is in charge of the news content of the channel.

That Yousaf’s arrest and issuance of FIR against founder and CEO ARY Digital Network Salman Iqbal, bureau chief Khawar Ghumman and anchor Arshad Sharif is the consequence of the interview ARY News aired of Shahbaz Gill, a spokesman for ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, is but obvious. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) blocked the transmission of ARY News on August 8, and issued a show cause notice to the mainstream broadcaster, accusing it of airing comments of Shahbaz Gill that were, “tantamount to inciting [the] ranks and files of armed forces towards revolt.” The authority held the content was “false, hateful and seditious”.

The channel was unavailable in many parts of the country for the next two day. The AFP news agency reported that it could be seen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which is PTI’s stronghold.

Hours after his comments on the news channel, the Islamabad police detained Gill on August 9, 2022, with Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah claiming that Gill was “seducing people towards rebellion" with his remarks.

Gill is due to appear before court on today (Wednesday).

Social media has been in turmoil since Khan's party allegedly initiated an online smear campaign against military leaders after the helicopter crash that killed six soldiers of the Pakistan Army on flood relief duty on August 1. ISPR said in a statement that “While the whole nation stood with the institution in this difficult time, certain insensitive quarters resorted to hurtful and derogatory comments on social media,” adding that the campaign is “unacceptable and highly condemnable”.

The helicopter attack, subsequent disrespectful campaign on social media, Gill’s comments on ARY News, disrupting the channel’s transmission and Gill’s arrest is reflective of the government and the military establishment’s uneasiness with the recent chain of events. As always, the axe had to fall on the independence of media. Without looking at the problematic past of the ARY News, the journalist community has come out in support of ARY News.

Farhatullah Babar tweets, “Shahbaz Gill tongue was dipped in poison. He wasn’t a communicator, only spewing venom, hatred thru lies & innuendos. Yet he has a right to fair trial & due process. Some #ARY anchors may not be journalists. But as citizens they have rights that must not be transgressed.”

Mehreen Zahra Malik tweets, “Gagging ARY just as bad as gagging Dawn or Geo. Deserves the same condemnation.”

While talking to TFT, senior lawyer Mazhar Abbas says, “The current crisis is not about the ARY alone. The problem lies deep down, in the structure of the media, which stands hugely divided today. Media houses are divided and so are mediapersons.”

He adds, “Journalists associated with mainstream media channels also run private YouTube channels, where they sound like political workers than professional, independent journalists. But when they get into trouble for airing objectionable content, their media channels receive the flak from the state.”

Like in the past with Geo and Dawn, this time, he says, the ARY is in the line of fire. “The pattern is the same, they arrest first and then issue FIRs.”

Such tactics critics say undermine democracy. France-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) cautioned that many cases of harassment that RSF has registered in the past two months have one thing in common — all the journalists concerned had, in one way or another, criticized the army’s role in Pakistani politics,” said Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“It is clear from the data that the armed forces have launched a major campaign to intimidate critical journalists. This kind of interference, which is absolutely intolerable, must stop at once or else the chief of the army staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, will be held directly responsible for the decline in press freedom in Pakistan,” Bastard said.

Abbas says he could see trouble coming for ARY. “It was expected. It was clearly siding with Imran Khan and the PTI.”

ARY is one of Pakistan's most popular television stations. It has repeatedly clashed with regulators in Pakistan. It was ordered to pay a large fine in the UK in 2018 over a segment on Pakistani billionaire Mian Mohammad Mansha which contained claims of money laundering. Earlier in 2016, the network was ordered by the UK court to issue an apology for broadcasting defamatory and baseless news against the Jang/Geo group’s head Mir Shakeel ur Rehman.

However, to support the cause of the independence of media, the journalist community must stand together against the state policy of gagging media. Abbas says it is time the journalist community sits together and chalks out a future plan for the media. “It must develop professional structures based on self-regulations and not greed for ads/revenue. They must come together to decide how they want to work in future. They must draw a clear line between valid criticism and abuse.”