Pakistan’s media watchdog bans coverage of motorway gang rape case

Islamabad: Pakistan media watchdog has barred all TV channels from further media coverage of the motorway gang rape case three weeks after the shocking incident.

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“All satellite TV channels (news & current affairs) are therefore directed to comply with the orders of the honorable Anti-Terrorism Court, Lahore, regarding Sialkot motorway incident in letter and spirit and refrain from airing any content with regard to the instant case, in future,” reads the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) notification issued on October 2. The ban is to be implemented on electronic media, print as well as social media with immediate effect.

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Investigating Officer Zulfiqar Cheema had filed an application seeking a ban on media coverage of the incident citing “hindrance in the arrest of the prime suspect”. The notification cited the court order that observed that it was an “offence relating to sex and certainly due to media coverage the victim and his family will also be disgraced.”

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The judge also noted that one of suspects had been shifted to jail for the purpose of identification and “if media coverage of the case was not stopped, it would certainly diminish the evidentiary worth of the material collected by the prosecution.”

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According to local media reports, the prosecutor relied upon section 13(2) of Punjab Witness Protection Act 2018. The section reads, “The reporting of the identity of a person connected with an offence of terrorism or a sexual offence or the identity of the members of his family shall be prohibited in print, electronic or other media, if the court is satisfied that the quality or voluntariness of the evidence of the person concerned will diminish thereby.”

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Pakistan has witnessed a massive public outrage over the handling of sexual assault cases after a woman was gang-raped on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway in front of her children. The police have managed to arrest one of the accused while the prime suspect is still on the loose.

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Reema Omer, legal advisor (South Asia) at International Commission of Jurists, said on Twitter: “There are legitimate grounds to regulate how media covers crime, including ensuring right to a fair trial of the accused and protecting privacy/confidentiality of victims. Blanket bans on reporting that reiterate such pernicious stereotypes about sexual violence have no justification.”

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