Christians Left Dumbfounded After Pakistan Orders Mass Shutdown of All Church-Run TV Stations

Pakistani people watch and listen to a speech given by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on television in Islamabad on April 5. All church-run TV stations in Muslim-majority Pakistan have been forced shut by the government. (Photo by AFP)
Pakistani people watch and listen to a speech given by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on television in Islamabad on April 5. All church-run TV stations in Muslim-majority Pakistan have been forced shut by the government. (Photo by AFP)

Pakistan has ordered a mass shutdown of all church-run TV stations leaving the country’s beleaguered Christian minority dumbfounded.

Since Sept. 23, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) sent a notice to all regional general managers to “stop transmitting 11 illegal TV channels  immediately.” The notice was largely ignored; until a crackdown began on Oct. 15.

Six people were arrested when cable TV operators were raided for broadcasting Indian Christian channels. Now staffers at the closed stations are on indefinite leave. Pakistan’s oldest Christian satellite broadcaster, Isaac TV was silenced and was followed by Catholic TV, run by Lahore Archdiocese.

PEMRA’s ban is a setback for interfaith harmony in a country that is already riven with sectarian violence. The closure of Christian channels further isolates the religious minority.

Legally speaking, the government has a right to pull down channels that do not have landing rights, the right to broadcast foreign TV content in Pakistan, or a PEMRA license. Landing rights are granted for programs on a number of subjects but not religious content.

Owners of Christian channels knew they were taking a risk by broadcasting foreign religious programs but, everybody thought that, if Islamic channels could do so, then Christians should also have their say.

They still had to be careful, after all, Christians have long faced discrimination in the Muslim-majority nation, so they broadcast their religious content from abroad.

For example, Isaac TV recorded its programs in Lahore but broadcast them from Hong Kong. Similarly, God Bless TV aired its content from Dubai.

While drafting this column, I turned on the TV and counted 11 Islamic channels airing 24 hours a day. Among them was Peace TV which broadcasts Zakir Naik, a preacher who was accused of inspiring the terrorists behind the July 1 Dhaka cafe attack in Bangladesh that left 20 people, including 17 foreigners, dead.

After the attack, the government of Bangladesh was quick to block Peace TV broadcasts. Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani Christian leaders backed the move.

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SOURCE: UCA News
Kamran Chaudhry