ISLAMABAD: Coverage of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan has disappeared from all mainstream news channels in the country after the media regulator asked networks to block out people involved in rioting last month, a Reuters survey showed on Monday.
A directive, seen by Reuters, was put out by the regulator last week referring to violent protests in Pakistan last month following Khan’s brief arrest that saw military installations ransacked, allegedly by the former prime minister’s supporters.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) asked television licensees to ensure that “hate mongers, rioters, their facilitators and perpetrators” are “completely screened out from media.” It did not refer directly to Khan.
However, coverage of the former prime minister — Pakistan’s most popular leader according to polls — has disappeared to the extent that his name and image are not being aired. His mention has also disappeared from news websites.
PEMRA officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment and queries on whether the directives pertained to Khan, and if the directive was meant to be an all-encompassing ban.
Khan has long been the most televised politician in Pakistan, with his speeches and gatherings getting wall-to-wall coverage and widespread viewership.
The ban comes amidst a wider crackdown on Khan and his party that has seen dozens of his party members and thousands of his supporters arrested, which, he says, is being done by the country’s powerful military.
The military has not responded to a request for comment on that allegation by Khan. It has previously denied orchestrating his removal his removal from power in a parliamentary vote last year.
Khan himself was arrested on charges of graft but released two days later after courts deemed the manner of his detention illegal. He remains out on bail, but faces dozens of cases.
In an interview, Khan said that the incidents of violence was used as a “pretext” to for a “blanket ban” on him and his party.
“We cannot be mentioned on television,” said Khan, who now regularly speaks through his party’s YouTube channel.
Senior officials of four major news channels did not respond to request for comment.
Even ARY News, considered a pro-Khan channel by the former prime minister’s political opponents, had no mention of Khan on Monday, despite his standoff with the military dominating headlines globally for weeks.
“The reports of blocking all news related to Imran Khan is the latest in a series of disturbing steps that authorities have taken to crack down on the opposition,” Dinushika Dissanayake, Deputy Director South Asia at Amnesty International, said in a statement.