Pakistani news channel taken off air, put on notice for content inciting ‘revolt’ against army

A Pakistani journalist gestures during a protest against the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority in Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 21, 2014. (AFP/File)
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Updated 09 August 2022

Pakistani news channel taken off air, put on notice for content inciting ‘revolt’ against army

  • In news segment on Monday, hosts and Khan chief of staff discussed alleged media cell set up by ruling PMLN party to malign PTI
  • Dr. Shahbaz Gill’s comments tantamount to inciting “ranks and files of armed forces toward revolt,” electronic media regulator says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s electronic media regulator has issued a show-cause notice to a major private news channel, ARY News, for airing “hateful and seditious” content that the authority said amounted to inciting revolt within the armed forces, a copy of the document shows.

The show cause notice released late on Monday night came hours after officials at ARY News, and an association of Internet service providers, said the channel had been taken off air by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), soon after the channel aired a segment considered critical of the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as well as the top command of the Pakistan army.

ARY News is widely seen as being partial to ex-premier Imran Khan’s opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, with criticism of the Sharif government’s political and economic polices a regular feature of news bulletins and current affairs shows.

On Monday, the channel aired a segment in which two hosts and chief of staff to Khan, Dr. Shehbaz Gill, alleged that Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) party had activated a “strategic media cell” to malign the PTI and its chairman and build a public narrative that the party was against Pakistan’s all-powerful army. ARY had previously also made the accusations in June.

In the segment, Gill also advised army officers not to follow orders of the top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.”

“A beeper of Dr. Shehbaz Gill of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was included who uttered highly hateful and seditious comments which tantamount to incite ranks and files of armed forces toward revolt,” PEMRA said in the notice issued to the channel.

“Airing of such content on your news channel shows either weak editorial control on the content or the licensee is intentionally indulged in providing its platform to such individual who intent to spread malice and hatred against the state institutions for their vested interests,” the notice read, saying this was against the country’s constitution.

The notice said the channel had also maligned the federal government by “egregiously, baselessly and categorically” claiming that it was running a malicious campaign over the tragic crash of an army aviation helicopter last week, causing agony to the families of the martyrs.

The regulator directed the chief executive officer of the channel to show cause in writing within three days explaining why legal action should not be initiated against the channel for violating the law and the constitution.

Earlier on Monday evening, officials of the channel said it had been taken off air in a number of cities.

“Just cause we reported a true story #ARYNews gets shut down,” ARY CEO Salman Iqbal said in a Twitter post.

“On the orders of PEMRA, cable operators across Pakistan have started removing ARY News from their cable network. Watch ARY News Live on Youtube,” Ammad Yousaf, senior executive vice president of ARY News, said.

ARY News was reported to still be off air in several cities of Pakistan on Tuesday morning.

The Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) confirmed to Arab News the suspension of the channel’s transmission across Pakistan, saying it was done on the instructions of PEMRA.

“We have received verbal instructions from PEMRA about an hour ago to off air ARY News,” Wahaj Siraj, convener ISPAK and co-founder of Nayatel, a major Internet service provider, told Arab News. “No reason is given to us to off air the channel, and this is being done almost across Pakistan now.”

“We have sent emails to our customers about the development. We don’t know as to when we will be able to restore the service,” Siraj added. “If we get any revised instructions from PEMRA to restore the service on our network, we’ll be able to do it in 20 to 30 minutes.”

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comment on whether the government was behind the blockade of ARY.

The development comes in the wake of an online smear campaign against the military and its officers after any army aviation helicopter carrying a senior commander and five others crashed on a mountain during a flood relief operation last Monday and all onboard were killed.

Following the incident, a social media campaign targeted the deceased officers and included hashtags against the military.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called the campaign “horrifying” and said it reflected that the minds of young Pakistanis were being poisoned. The army’s media wing has also rejected the “regretful” social media trends, saying they had caused anguish among the families of those who had died as well as in the army as an institution.

On Sunday, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said it was forming a joint investigation team to probe the smear campaign.

Members of the PTI have alleged that Twitter trends and anti-army posts are being pushed by the ruling PMLN, which the party denies.

The army has not yet commented on ARY being taken off air.


Pakistan launches animal rights curriculum to shape more tolerant, inclusive society

Updated 11 sec ago

Pakistan launches animal rights curriculum to shape more tolerant, inclusive society

  • Minister for Education Rana Tanvir launched the curriculum along with children from various schools
  • Official says the purpose of the launch is to ensure children can learn what adults were never taught

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Friday launched an animal rights curriculum for primary schools, an aide to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said, in a bid to protect animal rights in the country and instill the virtues of tolerance and empathy in children. 

Pakistan's Minister for Education Rana Tanvir along with children from various schools launched the curriculum, which will be applicable to both public and private schools.  

Salman Sufi, head of the prime minister's strategic reforms unit, took to Twitter and shared glimpses of the launch ceremony as well as one of the course books. 

“Proud to announce the official launch of Pakistan’s 1st Animal Rights Curriculum on direction of PM @CMShehbaz,” Sufi tweeted.  

“Our children will shape a more tolerant and inclusive Pakistan.” 

 

Sufi said in September that the curriculum would initially be introduced in schools across the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), but the federal government had plans to work with provincial governments to add courses to their curriculum later. 

He said PM Sharif had been pushing for animal welfare reforms through the unit and the move to introduce the course was a step in that direction.   

“The main purpose is to make sure that children can learn what we were never taught,” Sufi told Arab News in September.  

“That stray animals, pet animals, exotic animals, and any animal has rights, and we have to take care of them. And we have to take care of them in the right way, not just by words but through proper actions.” 

The premier’s aide said he and Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman were also working on an animal welfare law that would soon be tabled in parliament.


'Made-in-Sialkot' Adidas ball puts Pakistan in the World Cup

Updated 8 min 5 sec ago

'Made-in-Sialkot' Adidas ball puts Pakistan in the World Cup

  • Sialkot has a rich history of making soccer balls and other sporting equipment dating back to colonial times
  • The eastern Pakistani city made more than 43 million balls valued at $191 million in the 2021-22 financial year

SIALKOT: Even though it is a cricket-mad nation, Pakistan is playing a big part in the soccer World Cup by making the balls used on the training fields in Qatar and the replicas sold to fans worldwide. 

Forward Sports, a multinational sports equipment company in the northeastern city of Sialkot, has been working with Adidas AG for almost 20 years. It is one of the two manufacturers of Adidas’ Al Rihla, the official World Cup ball. 

Hassan Masood Khawaja director of Forward Sports, the official manufacturer of sports goods for Adidas, speaks with Reuters at his factory in Sialkot, Pakistan on November 30, 2022. (REUTERS)

Forward Sports Director Hassan Masood Khawaja said his company had made 5.5 million Al Rihla balls, including 60,000 high-quality replicas of the balls used in matches, only without the real-time technology helping referees with offside and line calls. 

They are used by the teams as they train in Qatar, and sold as a premium product to football enthusiasts across the globe, with the rest sold as lower-priced leisure and souvenir balls. The match balls are made in China. Adidas declined to identify the manufacturer. 

A worker conducts the final check to fix any cavity in the seams of a ball inside the soccer ball factory in Sialkot, Pakistan December 2, 2022. (REUTERS)

For the company, the contract is a source of pride. 

“More than business, it is a matter of prestige and honor for us to make the World Cup ball,” Khawaja said. 

“How do we do it? It’s the skill of the people ... and our love for the sport,” he said. 

Workers check the finish of the soccer balls before packing them inside the soccer ball factory, in Sialkot, Pakistan November 30, 2022. (REUTERS)

While soccer is popular among fans, the national side is ranked 194 out of 211 countries by FIFA. Cricket reigns supreme. 

Sialkot has a rich history of making soccer balls and other sporting equipment dating back to colonial times. 

Pakistan remains one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of soccer balls, along with China and India. The local chamber of commerce said more than 43 million balls valued at $191 million were made in Sialkot in the 2021/22 financial year. 

About 8 percent of Sialkot’s population of around 1 million people work in the industry, but many say they have little time to actually see their product in action. 

“We work all day,” said Forward Sports quality control inspector Amna, when asked if she watched soccer. “At night, when we go home, we need to rest.”


Pakistan’s central bank reserves decline to near four-year low

Updated 09 December 2022

Pakistan’s central bank reserves decline to near four-year low

  • Central bank data shows Pakistan’s liquid foreign exchange reserves stand at $6.7 billion
  • Forex reserves can only cover one month of imports, says finance expert Tahir Abbas

ISLAMABAD: As the forex reserves of Pakistan’s central bank decreased by $782 million to a four-year low of $6.7 billion during the week that ended Dec. 2, a financial expert on Friday said the country needed to employ efforts on a “war footing basis” to manage the crisis.

The State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) data showed that it was only left with liquid foreign exchange reserves worth 6.7 billion during the week that ended on December 2. The central bank’s net reserves with other banks remained at $5.867 billion, bringing the country’s total reserves to $12.58 billion.

The last time the central bank’s reserves were this low was on January 18, 2019, when it had some $6.64 billion in reserves.

The South Asian nation is already undergoing a financial crunch, largely aggravated by the unprecedented floods that affected more than 33 million people. Results from a damage assessment survey estimated that the deluges have cost the country more than $30 billion in damages.

“Pakistan’s forex reserves have fallen to a critical level that can only cover one month of imports,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, a Pakistani security brokerage firm, told Arab News.

“The government needs to manage the foreign exchange reserves on a war footing basis by expediting the process to complete the impending review of the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” he added.

He added that the completion of the IMF review will not only help inflows from the global money lender, but also from other multinational lenders.

Abbas said to meet the deficit, the government is also trying to arrange $4.2 billion from Saudi Arabia under an emergency relief package, including $3 billion in deposits and $12 billion worth of oil on deferred payments.

“In addition, the government needs to stop the bleeding on the Current Account Deficit (CAD) because the country has to run the CAD at a minimum side,” Abbas said.

The IMF review for the release of Pakistan’s next tranche of funding has been pending since September, which has left the country in dire need of external financing.

Islamabad has said all targets for the IMF review have been completed and that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense.


Pakistan’s top court declares agreement for Reko Diq revival legal

Updated 09 December 2022

Pakistan’s top court declares agreement for Reko Diq revival legal

  • Pakistan’s top court blocked Reko Diq’s implementation in 2013 over contractual issues
  • Government consulted experts, Balochistan Assembly taken into confidence, observes court

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Friday declared an agreement between the country and two international firms, for the development of the Reko Diq mine, as legal, local media reported.

The Reko Diq mine is located in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province which is said to have one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits. The development of the project was suspended in 2011 after Pakistan denied the Tethyan Copper Company, a joint venture between Barrick Gold of Canada and Antofagasta Minerals of Chile, license to continue work.

The country’s Supreme Court blocked the Tethyan Copper Company in 2013 from developing Reko Diq following a court case on how the contract had been awarded. However, Pakistan reached an out-of-court settlement with the mining firms in March this year to avoid paying the $9 billion penalty announced by the World Bank’s arbitration court, and the government said it was hopeful that Barrick and its partners would invest $10 billion in the project.

The verdict was announced by a five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial.

“In its 13-page short order issued today, the court observed that the government had entered the agreement after consulting experts, as per the court order, and the Balochistan Assembly was taken into confidence regarding the agreement,” Dawn, a leading newspaper in Pakistan, reported.

The court observed that the Balochistan Assembly lawmakers were briefed on the matter and they did not raise any objections to the agreement, Dawn said. It said the court order noted that Barrick Gold Corporation had assured labor rights would not be violated during the project’s implementation and that the agreement met environmental requirements.

“There was nothing illegal in the new Reko Diq agreement, the court concluded, adding that it was also not in violation of its 2013 judgment,” Dawn reported.

The revival of Reko Diq project is expected to give a fillip to the economy by creating a more positive investment sentiment and increasing employment opportunities in the country.


FM Bhutto-Zardari urges world to shed ‘stereotypical’ image of Pakistan

Updated 09 December 2022

FM Bhutto-Zardari urges world to shed ‘stereotypical’ image of Pakistan

  • Bhutto-Zardari urges countries to lift travel advisories against Pakistan
  • The foreign minister is on a three-day visit to Indonesia and Singapore

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari urged the world to let go of Pakistan’s “stereotypical” image and invited countries to look at the country with a fresh perspective, Singaporean English-language daily The Strait Times reported on Friday.

Bhutto-Zardari, who embarked on a three-day visit to Indonesia and Singapore from December 7-9, told the Singaporean publication that Pakistan had many opportunities to offer to the world, therefore, countries should revive their travel advisories against it.

On Friday, the minister held a meeting with his Singaporean counterpart, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, reviewing the state of bilateral relations, enhancement of bilateral engagements and cooperation.

Pakistan also offered support to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) led processes in the Asia Pacific region.

“As a young political leader, I strongly feel that the world needs to have a fresh look at Pakistan, away from its stereotypical image,” Bhutto Zardari said.

“There are so many opportunities in Pakistan awaiting the world, for which the first step is to lift the travel advisories against the country,” he added.

The foreign minister said he felt strongly that the world “needs to look at us more objectively, as a promising emerging market.”

He said exchanges between Singapore and Pakistan over the years had lost momentum.

“[I am going to] to revive that momentum and intensify our bilateral exchanges. Pakistan is keen to strengthen this relationship in all dimensions,” he said.

Highlighting the political and socioeconomic challenges that Pakistan had been facing for the last few decades, Bhutto-Zardari said the country had come a long way.