The popular private news broadcaster, ARY News, could face “permanent closure” after its operating licence was revoked by the state-run media regulatory body.

The livelihoods of more than 4,000 Pakistani media workers are potentially at risk after The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) revoked ARY News’ operating licence on Friday. It came after ARY News broadcast a controversial statement by Shahbaz Gill, opposition politician and advisor to former Prime Minister Imran Khan, which contained alleged anti-army remarks, last Monday. The newspaper, Dawn, described the action as “unprecedented”, and said it paved the way for “the permanent closure of the channel.”

While ARY News has been perceived to report favourably towards Mr Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), ARY News issued a clarification that Mr Gill’s remarks were of his own opinion and separate from the policies of the private news outlet. PEMRA maintained that the remarks were a threat to national security. The body claimed the statement was an attempt to incite a revolt amongst military troops, and alleged that the current coalition government, led by Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), was organising a disinformation campaign against the opposition party.

The channel had been initially taken off-air in several parts of the country from Monday evening, after PEMRA accused ARY News for airing critical and “seditious” content against the government. ARY News Head of News, Mr. Ammad Yousaf, and several other members of staff were arrested before being released on Thursday.

An order was subsequently passed by the Sindh High Court on 11 August for authorities to immediately restore the transmission of ARY News across Pakistan. However, PEMRA ignored this order and went ahead with revoking its licence.

ARY News described the suspended licence as the “economic murder of more than 4,000 media workers associated with the news channel”, and that the network was being “victimised by the federal government.”

This has taken place at a time when many media houses and journalists are continuing to face financial hardships. Executive Producer at ARY News, Mr. Asad Kaleem has called on the government to reverse its decision and restore the transmission of ARY News.

This is not the first time the broadcaster has clashed with regulators in Pakistan. In 2014, PEMRA suspended ARY for 15 days for allegedly defaming the judiciary – a subject that, along with the army, is still considered sensitive, especially when reported on critically.

National and international journalist unions have condemned the suspension of the channel and the legal harassment of its workers, and considered it yet another curb on media freedom in Pakistan. “This is an alarming attack on press freedom in Pakistan and the decision to take such action must be reconsidered and reversed. It is also a dangerous precedent being set by the sitting government of action that can be taken against a television network”, the Pakistan Press Foundation (PFF) wrote in a statement published today. “Rather than taking steps that further restrict, repress and undermine the space for free expression, the government should be working to further improve the ability of journalists to work freely and without intimidation in the country.”

The current Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, took office after Mr. Khan was ousted with a no-confidence vote in April. Mr. Sharif’s administration vowed to improve the conditions for media freedom that were worsening under Mr. Khan. During his four-year tenure, there were arrests and assaults on journalists as well as increased digital harassment against women journalists. Mr. Khan has denied these claims.

Yet this latest development demonstrates that even under this new administration, journalists in Pakistan are still not free to report on public interest issues without fear of arrest, suspensions, or having licenses revoked. This goes against the Constitution of Pakistan which is meant to guarantee freedom of expression. The Public Media Alliance calls on the current government to restore ARY News’ operating license, and to pursue the promised commitments to protect media freedoms upon entering office.

Header image: Islamabad, Pakistan – October 11 2019: The facade of the building of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). Credit: Waleeds/