The leaked phone conversation between a Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) employee and an unknown caller – threatening the employee to allow for a channel to be brought back on air regardless of the orders from government – is a dark reminder of how bureaucratic officers are often threatened and coerced to not do their jobs properly with the threat of injury and death as an incentive to comply. The call in question is all but proof that certain media houses are backed by powerful elements, who do not fear the law or the state enough to comply with its wishes. Not only that, they are also clearly willing to take matters into their own hands if their outrageous demands are not met.

PEMRA Chief Absar Alam’s plea to the government, the army chief and others is serious in the extreme and must not be taken lightly. If the regulatory body is to carry out its duties effectively, the protection of its staff and their families must be made a priority. It is natural that threats are made against a body tasked with regulating powerful organisations, however, that does not mean that this is to be tolerated. The threats are a direct challenge to the writ of the state – the caller even went as far as reminding the PEMRA employee that the government will be replaced, but permanent physical injury was more lasting – and the government should treat them as such.

PEMRA, like all other institutions, is by no means perfect, and has erred on more than one occasion. Banning shows that were not controversial but dealt with important societal issues and acting with delay on hate speech on air are only two examples of unjustified steps taken by the institution. However, PEMRA cannot be faulted for doing its job. If a media house or a TV channel does not agree with the policies or decisions being made by the government or the regulatory body regarding what goes on air, there are proper channels to take these complaints to. Threatening to kill or maim someone or their family only tells us that the demands being made are unjustified and cannot be granted under due process of the law.

If this threat is not acted upon, more are likely to surface in the future, not to mention that other media houses will be encouraged to spurn the authority of the regulatory body whenever it makes a policy that is not to their liking. Finding out the source of the threats made, their purpose and throwing the book at the perpetrators is fundamental to ensure the future of regulation of electronic media in Pakistan.