Scores of journalists protesting the “illegal closure” of an independent Pakistani TV news channel viewed as critical of the Imran Khan government were shot at during a protest in Islamabad. The protest was held on July 6 in front of the headquarters of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which ordered the suspension of 24NewsHD’s transmission on July 3. “Shots were fired outside the office of PEMRA in Islamabad as the journalists were staging a peaceful demonstration to record their protest,” the channel reported. “First, PEMRA security guards scuffled with the journalists and then opened fire on them. The peaceful journalists were then lathi-charged [baton-charged] in the presence of the Islamabad deputy commissioner and were also pelted with stones.” The station said PEMRA had bulldozed all norms of press freedom because it was “holding a mirror to the government.”
The order means nearly 1,000 employees face the prospect of losing their jobs. “Despite the relentless pressure and cheap tactics, the 24NewsHD management refused to bow down before this dictatorial attitude and decided to stand for media freedom and the people’s right to access to facts,” the channel stated. On July 3, PEMRA pulled the channel off air for “illegal transmission of news and current affairs content,” saying the channel was in violation of its broadcast license, according to a statement by the regulator. In a statement, the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors termed the regulator’s suspension one-sided. It argued that 24NewsHD had been broadcasting news for almost six years. The outlet had broadcast coverage critical of the government, according to reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged the regulator to immediately lift the suspension and allow 24NewsHD to broadcast freely. “The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s order to suspend 24NewsHD is a transparent attempt to shut down a voice that has broadcast critical news and commentary about the government,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “24NewsHD should be allowed to restart operations immediately and to change its license to allow for news broadcasting. Paperwork disputes must not result in censorship.” Pastor Javed Bashir of the Pentecostal Church of Pakistan strongly condemned the firing on media persons. “It is an attempt to stifle freedom of speech. Media is the fourth pillar of state and guardian of democracy. The government should make sure that journalists work without fear and harassment,” the pastor told UCA News. Separately, the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) representing media owners strongly condemned the shutting down of 24News. “PEMRA’s action has resulted in loss of livelihood of hundreds of media workers and journalists besides loss of millions to the media house,” the association stated. “PBA demands that PEMRA should immediately restore the broadcast of 24News and resolve the issue through dialogue. PBA also condemns and demands an inquiry into the alleged firing and use of force by PEMRA security against the journalists protesting the channel's closure.” The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also condemned the “high-handedness of the authorities and their use of force in dealing with 24NewsHD media workers.”
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