Lahore: Pakistan’s television regulator was today given five days to explain why TV stations broke the ban on broadcasting interviews with the exiled Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief.

Absar Alam, chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was ordered to submit a report on the ban when he appeared in Lahore’s High Court (LHC) earlier today.

Television stations were ordered to observe a complete blackout of the MQM leader’s speeches in September after he called for India to halt the Rangers’ crackdown on terrorism in Karachi. Many of those targeted in the operation were members of his party. His comments were condemned as ‘anti-Pakistan.’

A full bench of the court headed by Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi issued the order on three identical petitions seeking a ban on media coverage of the MQM leader’s speeches.

Several weeks later news channels broadcast the MQM chief’s comments. His reaction to money-laundering allegations in the United Kingdom was featured in news reports.

In November several petitions against the PEMRA chairman over his failure to enforce the ban were submitted to the LHC. Since then he has appeared in court six times to explain how effectively the ban has been enforced but has successfully appealed for the matter to be deferred.

Today he was allowed a further adjournment but must now submit his report by January 15th.

Alam said complaints against stations alleged to have breached the ban have been referred to the regulator’s Council of Complaints in Karachi.

The Council will meet the day before the next court hearing on January 14th to assess whether the accused channels had indeed breached the ban and, if so, what punishment should be awarded.

The court also granted an exception to Alam, from appearing in future hearings.

The next High Court hearing will also hear the federal government’s evidence on the MQM chief’s identity, whether he is still a Pakistani national and, if so, his reported comments amount to treason.