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Pakistani news channel suppressed and put on notice for inciting “revolt” against the army

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s electronic media regulator has issued a show cause notice to a major private news channel, ARY News, for airing ‘hateful and seditious’ content which the authority says amounted to inciting revolt within the armed forces, a copy of the document shows .

The show cause notice released late Monday came hours after officials from ARY News and an association of internet service providers said the channel had been taken off the air by the Electronic Media Regulatory Authority of Pakistan shortly after the channel aired a segment seen as critical of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government as well as the Pakistani military high command.

ARY News is widely seen as a supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, with criticism of the Sharif government’s political and economic policies appearing regularly in news bulletins and broadcasts. news.

On Monday, the channel aired a segment in which two hosts and Khan’s chief of staff, Shahbaz Gill, alleged that Sharif’s ruling party, the Pakistani Muslim League Nawaz, had activated a ‘strategic media cell’ to slander the PTI. and its president, and build a public narrative that the party was against Pakistan’s all-powerful military. The outlet had also made the charges in June.

In the segment, Gill advised army officers not to follow orders issued by higher command if they were “against the feelings of the masses.”

“A flagman from Shahbaz Gill of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has been included who has made highly hateful and seditious comments which amounts to inciting the base of the armed forces to revolt,” PEMRA said in the notice posted on the chain.

“The broadcast of such content on your news channel either shows weak editorial control over the content, or the licensee is intentionally indulging in providing its platform to someone who intends to spread the word. malice and hatred against state institutions for their vested interests,” the notice read. , claiming that it was against the country’s constitution.

The notice said the channel had also slandered the government by claiming “blatantly, baselessly and categorically” that it was carrying out a malicious campaign following the crash of a military aviation helicopter last week.

The regulator ordered the chain’s CEO to justify in writing within three days explaining why legal action should not be taken against the outlet for violating the law and the constitution.

Earlier Monday evening, ARY News officials said the channel had been taken down in a number of cities.

“Just because we reported a true story #ARYNews is closed,” CEO Salman Iqbal said in a Twitter post.

“On the orders of PEMRA, cable operators in Pakistan have started removing ARY News from their cable network. Watch ARY News live on YouTube,” said Ammad Yousaf, the channel’s senior executive vice president.

On Tuesday, ARY News was still not broadcast in several cities in Pakistan.

The Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan confirmed to Arab News that the channel’s transmission has been suspended across Pakistan, saying it was done on the instructions of PEMRA.

“We received verbal instructions from PEMRA about an hour ago to deactivate ARY News,” Wahaj Siraj, ISPAK host and co-founder of Nayatel, a major internet service provider, told Arab News. “We are given no reason to turn off the channel, and it is done almost everywhere in Pakistan now.

“We sent emails to our customers regarding the development. We don’t know when we will be able to restore service,” Siraj added. “If we get revised instructions from PEMRA to restore service to our network, we can do it in 20 to 30 minutes.”

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comment on whether the government was behind the FYR blockade.

The development comes following an online smear campaign against the army and its officers after a military aviation helicopter carrying a senior commander and five others crashed into a mountain during an operation flood relief last Monday, killing all on board.

Following the incident, a social media campaign targeted the victims and included hashtags against the military.

The prime minister called the campaign “horrifying” and said it showed the minds of young Pakistanis were being poisoned.

The military’s media wing also condemned the “regrettable” social media trends, saying they had caused anguish among the families of the victims and sought to tarnish the reputation of the military.

On Sunday, the Federal Investigation Agency said it was setting up a joint investigation into the campaign.

PTI members have alleged that Twitter trends and anti-army messaging are being pushed by the ruling PMLN, a claim the party denies.

The military has yet to comment on ARY’s withdrawal.