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Apparent ban on Pakistani stations lifted; IFJ calls for clarification of broadcasting law

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 1 May 2008 IFJ media release:

IFJ Urges India to Clarify Restrictions on Pakistani TV

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is pleased to note that a dispute arising from a putative ban on Pakistani television channels broadcasting into Jammu and Kashmir in India has been resolved for now.

"We nevertheless urge India's Government to explain the circumstances under which it decreed what seemed a ban to much of the world," said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.

The restrictions snowballed into a political controversy as cable television operators retaliated by blocking all Indian and international channels in the Kashmir valley on April 25.

Political authorities in Jammu and Kashmir distanced themselves from the restrictions.

While the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in India's Union Government said local authorities have responsibility for enforcement of the cable TV regulatory regime, it added that it did issue a directive to curb the broadcast of "unauthorised" channels.

These instructions were reportedly sent to the Jammu and Kashmir state government and the states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The head of the association of cable TV operators in Jammu and Kashmir challenged this explanation and said the "ban" on Pakistani channels was decreed exclusively for the Kashmir valley. Operators in the Jammu region, a distinct cultural zone within the same state, were spared the rigors of its enforcement.

India's Government has said that all channels that broadcast into Indian territory need to be registered in accordance with cable TV regulatory law. The Pakistani channels in question have reportedly disregarded requests to register accordingly.

The uncertainties in the Indian broadcast law are evident in the different dates that have been given for the entry into force of the registration requirement. Some accounts date it from November 2005 and some others from May 2006.

The IFJ is also informed that the registration of broadcast channels in India is a far from transparent process. The Al Jazeera English service, for instance, has been waiting since January 2007 for registration under India's cable TV law.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, an IFJ affiliate, has deplored the restrictions on broadcast signals in Jammu and Kashmir.

"We believe that any entity broadcasting into the jurisdiction of a government other than the one to which it is directly accountable should be liable under the laws of that country. But we also believe that there are no grounds for prior restraints on the right to free speech," said Ms Park.

"If a ban was indeed decreed, then the media community needs to know who initiated it and who was tasked with enforcing it.

"We urge India's Government to clarify the circumstances under which it decreed the recent controls on cable operators in Kashmir. The free exchange of ideas through responsible media organisations can only be a favourable circumstance for mitigating political disputes that have simmered for generations".

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

Updates alert on banning of Pakistani cable signals: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93091

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