Why Imran Khan has disappeared from Pakistan’s media | Sunday Observer

Why Imran Khan has disappeared from Pakistan’s media

11 June, 2023
The arrest of Imran Khan sparked widespread protests, as well as violence and anger directed at the military
The arrest of Imran Khan sparked widespread protests, as well as violence and anger directed at the military

It was a surreal moment. On Tuesday night during his live TV show, Pakistani anchor Kashif Abbasi was talking about a legal petition filed by a lawyer against former prime minister Imran Khan.

Mr Abbasi says his name, then stops himself: “He filed an application under article six against Imran Khan… I apologise, against the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf.”

We tried to speak to Mr Abbasi, but he did not get back to us.

Over the last week, you will have struggled to hear Imran Khan’s name or see his picture on Pakistan’s media.

His arrest a month ago on corruption charges is the backdrop to this crackdown. When Mr Khan was taken from a court complex in Islamabad on 9 May, protests were sparked around the country. Some protested peacefully, but there was also violence.

Military buildings including the home of the most senior military commander in Lahore were attacked. The police arrested thousands of Khan supporters and the military have said they intend to try the alleged perpetrators of the attacks in military courts, something human rights groups including Amnesty International have said is against international law. On 31 May, Pakistan’s media regulator Pemra sent out a directive to Pakistan’s news channels. After mentioning the events of 9 May, the directive reminds media channels that they must refrain from providing airtime to individuals who propagate hate speech. There is no mention of Imran Khan’s name in the directive, but we have spoken to several individuals at different TV stations who told us that the message had been conveyed in clear terms to their channels.

Imran Khan’s name should not be mentioned, his picture not shown, his voice not heard, even a mention on the channels’ ticker tapes was not allowed, they told us. If there was any need to mention him, Mr Khan should only be referred to by his title, the chairman of his party, the PTI.

Two sources told the BBC that they had spoken directly to the owners of the TV channels they work for. They say the owners had been called into a meeting with senior officials from the military and intelligence services who told the channels in clear terms what was expected.

“They were told you will not run any news that bears his name and if you do you will be responsible,” says one source who works in Pakistan TV. All contributors from the media spoke to us on condition of anonymity.


The BBC has approached the army for a response, but has not yet heard back from them. Pemra’s director general confirmed that they had issued the directive but said that no instruction was given to news channels to stop mentioning Imran Khan.

It’s not the first time that a politician has been subject to a ban; during Imran Khan’s time in power, his political opponent Nawaz Sharif’s speeches were banned.

“Censorship has always been there in some way or another in Pakistan,” one journalist told me. “I used to get calls from the ISPR [the military’s press wing] saying there would be consequences about talking critically about Imran Khan.

“Back then we struggled to find opposition leaders to speak to because they were in jail. Now we struggle to have someone on from the PTI. The major difference between Khan’s tenure and now is that now they have this justification of the 9 May violence.”

Those in the media spoke to us about how this policy could affect their channels.

“The top channels here said: ‘How are you going to manage this?’ The fear is that the channels will lose credibility sooner rather than later if they are not showing any news about the PTI and pushing government press conferences.

“A very large number of people also watch TV because they want to get news about Imran Khan. The day he was arrested, the viewership was incredibly high.”

After being arrested then released, many of the PTI’s senior leadership announced they were leaving the party. The limits on the media are just the latest attempt to reduce Imran Khan’s influence before an election due later this year. There are some who disagree with the way that this has been portrayed. – BBC