Islamabad's High Court passed a verdict last week temporarily barring Aamir Liaquat Hussain, a controversial yet influential TV anchor, from making TV, print or social media appearances in Pakistan.
The court said Hussain had been engaged in inciting hatred and violence in the country.
The court ruled on a petition filed against Hussain, known in Pakistan as the "king of ratings" because of his fame and the large audience he attracts. The petition demanded that Hussain be banned for life for repeatedly abusing his influence on air to instigate people to violence and extremism.
The court's decision is temporary, and it will reconvene on January 10 for another hearing, at which the reporter will most likely receive a lifetime ban that will prevent him from appearing on any form of media.
The petition filed in court against Hussain accuses him of promoting religious intolerance by issuing Islamic fatwas, or religious decrees, during live shows that led to violent incidents in Pakistan.
"Liaquat used that show for a number of years to create social and religious divide in the country," the petition reads.
Following the court order, Pakistan's Electronic Regulatory Authority, commonly referred to as PEMRA, issued directives to all of its TV and radio licensees not to allow Hussain to appear in their programs.
Some critics agree that over the years, Hussain repeatedly has exploited religious sentiments and provoked violence in the country.
"There are quite a few examples where, unfortunately, Hussain deliberately provoked anger and hatred on live television," Zohra Yusuf, a rights activist in Pakistan, told VOA.
"Hussain incited hatred against the persecuted Ahmadi community, which resulted in unfortunate killings of Ahmadis," Yusuf added. "He also accused the missing secular bloggers of committing blasphemy. These are objectionable and serious allegations, and highly sensitive matters in our country."
Hussain is a former politician and served as the state minister for religious affairs until 2007 before becoming a TV host. He started his TV career with a religious show on Pakistan's private Geo TV, where he declared himself an Islamic scholar.
Hussain claims to have received his doctorate in Islamic studies from Trinity College and University in 2002. A report published in The Guardian in 2003 declared the university a scam where one allegedly could purchase a degree without going through the required coursework.
During a live television show in 2008, Hussain, along with a panel of religious clerics, openly criticized Mirza Ghulam Qadyani, the religious leader of the Ahmadi community, a religious minority in Pakistan. In the panel, one cleric openly declared that Ahmadis should be killed.
Within days, two prominent members of the Ahmadi community were slain in Pakistan, and authorities linked their assassination to the live TV show and the cleric's decree.
In 2014, a religious scholar who declared Ahmadis to be enemies of Islam was applauded by Hussain live on TV. Five days later, an Ahmadi was killed in the country's Punjab province. It was not immediately clear whether the person who committed the crime was inspired by Hussain, but critics maintain that Hussain's rhetoric has contributed to religious intolerance in the country.
Early in January, five secular bloggers went missing in Pakistan. Following their disappearance, Hussain showed content from the bloggers' Facebook pages during his TV show, and he declared them "blasphemers" � a charge that if proved and ruled upon by a court could carry a death sentence in Pakistan.
The charge of blasphemy in Pakistan is so severe that frequently, even if courts clear people of the charge, ordinary people will take matters into their own hands and attack those accused of it. The stain of the charge never goes away.
Following Hussain's comments about the bloggers, PEMRA banned him from appearing on TV for spreading hate speech for some time.
The bloggers told media outlets they were picked up by state security authorities on charges of spreading blasphemous content online and tortured. They all left Pakistan for security reasons.
The Pakistani government denied any involvement in the disappearances at the time.
Some critics, including Lahore-based Mehdi Hassan, a prominent media historian and communications expert, maintain that Hussain's irresponsibility partly stems from the desire to draw strong ratings, and the fact that media outlets suffer from lack of a clear editorial policy.
"I'm not a proponent of controlling media through courts, but regrettably our electronic media channels lack editorial judgment and will do anything to get ratings. Eventually, the TV anchors will go to any length to gain popularity and ratings," Hassan told VOA.
"That is what Hussain is all about, ratings," Hassan emphasized.
Some of Hussain's critics, for the sake of protecting media freedom in Pakistan, still want to see Hussain on television.
"I'm against the lifetime ban. Hussain has a proven record of changing people's perception and opinion," said Zohra Yusuf. "I think if he will work in accordance to the code of conduct set by PEMRA, and refrain from issuing Islamic decrees, he should be allowed to be on the TV screen."
Source: Voice of America