ISLAMABAD: People remained in the dark on Saturday after the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) ordered private TV channels to go off-air during an operation launched by local police and Rangers against participants of a sit-in staged by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah demanding the resignation of the federal law minister.
While hundreds of protesters and security personnel were injured during the operation, a number of journalists were attacked by furious mobs who beat them up and damaged DSNG (Digital Satellite News Gathering) vans of TV channels and their cameras.
Senior reporter Qamar Munawar of Dunya TV reportedly received a bullet injury and reporter of Channel-24 Sadam Manghat was wounded, while senior photographer Tanveer Shahzad of White Star for Dawn came under attack of protesters on Murree Road. Mr Shahzad was rescued after brief scuffles. Samaa TV cameraman Zulfiqar Ali was also injured.
DSNG vans of Aaj and Samaa TV channels were burnt down and cameras of several TV channels and newspapers were broken by the protesters.
The operation was started at 7am and it was televised live by all private TV channels till 10:30am, but after that Pemra, having some objections about the live coverage, ordered the cable operators to put the channels off air.
Pemra claimed that ‘irresponsible” attitude of some private TV channels had created an ‘anarchy’-like situation in many parts of the country.
The government also blocked social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube throughout the country.
YouTube was the only social media website that was accessible on mobile handsets.
Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said in a statement that TV channels were put off-air because some of them violated the code of conduct of Pemra by covering the operation live. “The government directed Pemra to invoke Section 5 of the Pemra Act to suspend transmission of all private TV channels,” he said.
The minister said some of the TV channels behaved sensibly while some others “jeopardised” the operation that triggered violence in different parts of the country.
An official of Pemra told Dawn that since the start of the sit-in all TV channels were instructed to be responsible and most of them were complying, but some of them covered the operation irresponsibly. “Perma issued two notices to the high-ups of TV channels, but they did not mend their ways and kept inciting the agitators by their irresponsible reporting,” he added.
The official said Pemra would not allow the live TV coverage unless the government ordered lifting of Section 5 of the Pemra Act.
The All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors and Pakistan Broadcasters Association have all condemned Pemra’s decision to block news coverage by private TV channels.
Demanding immediate restoration of TV channels, they called for taking action against only those channels which were violating the code of conduct.
RIUJ president Mubarak Zeb Khan condemned attacks on journalists and urged the government to ensure safety of journalists while performing their professional duties.
He said in a statement: “The government should avoid using extreme measures for suspending the news operation.” He also urged electronic media to abide by the code of conduct which prohibits live coverage of a security operation.