Pakistan has one of the worst records when it comes to media freedom. This was demonstrated once again this week when on Monday an interview of former president Asif Ali Zardari was stopped from being aired shortly after it started on Geo News.
The interviewer, Hamid Mir “took to Twitter to express his outrage over the incident. “I can only say sorry to my viewers that an interview was started and stopped on Geo New[s] I will share the details soon but it’s easy to understand who stopped it? We are not living in a free country,” he wrote. In a series of tweets, Mr Mir said that within few minutes during the telecast Geo News announced Mr Zardari’s interview would not be aired. “I am getting calls from all over the world people asking what happened? State of Pakistan giving bad name to this country we don’t need enemies,” he said. In a snippet of the interview circulated on social media, the former president disclosed that an investigation into a big scandal, involving Prime Minister Imran Khan, was under way. “What’s wrong in it? I asked some questions to ex President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari he responded? Is he bigger criminal than Ehsanullah Ehsan former spokesman of TTP? Remember Ehsanullah Ehsan gave interview from official custody I interviewed Asif Zardari in Parliament House,” asked Mr Mir.”
Media watchdogs “took notice of the incident and condemned press censorship in the country. “Freedom Network slams what appears case of enforced #censorship as #interview of @AAliZardari with @HamidMirPAK is stopped minutes after it started,” the watchdog stated. The Asia Desk of the Committee to Protect Journalists termed it an “outrageous infringement on freedom of the press!”
The Government of Pakistan, however, argued that the interview was pulled off for special reasons. According to Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan “the interview was pulled under Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) rules for three reasons. “[Firstly], an under-trial suspect who is in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) can not appear in an interview before cameras in the parliament,” she explained. “[Secondly] the permission of the National Assembly speaker is a prerequisite for bringing in cameras into the parliament,” she said, adding that “[Finally], there is a designated spot outside the parliament for media talks [where such interviews should be held].” “The interview was [therefore] conducted in violation of the rules of parliament,” she concluded, adding that Pemra rules too do not allow the broadcasting of an interview of an accused who is under investigation and on remand.”