The Pakistan government's intolerance of public dissent is not easing ahead of the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections, with television executives being warned they could be imprisoned and fined for giving critics of President Pervez Musharraf a live forum.
Pakistan's regulators ordered all satellite television channels to stop airing such live programs, talk shows and contents immediately, according to a copy of a letter Tuesday obtained by the Associated Press.
In the letter, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said some channels still were airing live coverage and taking live telephone calls from [the] public, which contain baseless propaganda against Pakistan and incite people to violence.
The regulators warned that the channels could be taken off the air and that those responsible - the network's license-holder or its representative - could face up to three years in prison and fines of up to $170,000.
Journalists yesterday accused the state media regulator of trying to restrict their coverage of the elections. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists called it an attempt to silence the free media.
Pervez Musharraf has lifted a ban on Pakistan's most popular television station, less than a month before parliamentary elections
which could be pivotal in the country's return to democracy.
Geo News and its sister sports channel began broadcasting at 6pm yesterday, just hours after the Pakistani president began his eight-day EU tour in which he is seeking to reassure Pakistan's partners that the democratic transition is still on
course, despite the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last month.
Speaking in Brussels, Musharraf referred to what he called the west's "obsession" with democracy and appealed for Pakistan to be given more time to improve its record on human rights and civil liberties.
Musharraf had been under pressure from Europe to lift the ban on Geo News, one of the restrictions left after a six-week state of emergency ended last month.
But the news channel, which had intensively covered his stand-off with the Pakistani judiciary last year, had to agree to a code of conduct, limiting criticism of the head of state, before going back on air.
Geo had also been forced to drop shows by journalists unpopular with the regime, claimed Reporters Without Borders: This constitutes yet further evidence that censorship is unfortunately still the rule just a few weeks before the elections
scheduled for February 18 .
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's decision to remove independent broadcaster Aaj
TV from air for more than 12 hours.
Satellite transmissions of Aaj were shut down after a prominent critic of the Musharraf government, Nusrat Javed, appeared on a late-night political talk show, according to The Associated Press. Aaj was among more than 40 channels that were taken
off air soon after Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the country's constitution on November 3. Though all the channels eventually broadcast again, many did so only after taking anchors and journalists critical of the government
off the air and curtailing live coverage of demonstrations and other events that showed opposition to the government.
Aaj was shut down midway through the live talk show Live with Talat, a popular political show, after Javed appeared as a guest, The Associated Press reported. He had also anchored his own popular late night show, “Bolta Pakistan” (Talking
Pakistan) before the November 3 clampdown.
Prior to the broadcast, Musharraf's spokesman Rashid Quereshi had advised Aaj that it should not allow Javed to appear on any of its programs.