On November 25, 2017, Pakistani government suspended all national private news channels, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Daily Motion across the country for over 24 hours, to prevent coverage of police crackdown against protestors in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. A number of journalists were also injured while covering the protests.
Around 8,000 security officials took part in the operation aimed at dispersing the activists of Tehrik Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, a religious party that had been staging a sit-in for 21 days in a busy intersection of the city. The Islamabad High Court had ordered the administration to clear the protesters, but the operation proved unsuccessful and it led to protests all over the country.
A number of journalists covering the protests were injured and two news gathering vans of television channels were also set on fire.
Journalists who were injured in Islamabad included, Yaseen Hashmi, Islamabad Bureau Chief Business Plus; Qamar Munawar of Dunya News; Sadam Mangat of Channel 24; photographer Tanver Shahzad of daily Dawn newspaper, photographer Pervez Aasi of Metro Watch; Sultan Shah of
Aab Tak TV and Shiraz Gardezi of Geo TV. In Karachi, protestors of
the same religious party attacked and injured Tariq Abul Hasan and Talha Hashmi of Geo News channel in two separate incidents.
Protestors in Islamabad also burned news gathering vans of television news channels Aaj TV and Samaa TV.
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) had directed all private news channels to suspend transmission accusing them of
violating the code of conduct. Similarly, Pakistan Telecommunication
Authority (PTA) was ordered a suspension of popular social networking sites, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Dailymotion.
The media blackout triggered a spate of speculations and left people without information on what was happening in major cities across the Pakistan.
The transmission of television networks and social media were restored on November 26 after remaining suspended for over 27 hours. PEMRA also issued guidelines for television channels for covering similar protests in future.
In a statement, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb defended the media suspension and said, “Suspending the transmissions was a painful decision which had to be taken in national interest after exhaustive deliberations with a view to preventing the spread of chaos and anarchy in the country,”.
Meanwhile, the action by PEMRA has been challenged in the Lahore High Court by Civil Society Network as being in violation of articles 19 and 19-A of Pakistan’s Constitution, which guarantee freedom of the press and right to information.
The Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and Pakistan Federal Union Journalists (PFUJ) strongly condemned the blackout of private news channels by the government.