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Three more journalists arrested; cable distribution of four TV stations restored, but one station forced to censor itself

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders notes that cable TV operators have resumed distribution of the Pakistani television channels Aaj TV and Dawn TV and two foreign news channels, BBC and CNN. The organisation condemns the requirement imposed on Aaj TV to drop two of its talk shows before the resumption of broadcasting was allowed.

Meanwhile, Abdul Sattar Kakar of ARY TV and Jamal Tharkai of the newspaper "Awam" were arrested by police on 14 November 2007 in Quetta while taking part in a protest against media censorship. The same day, Aaj TV correspondent Nadem Khattak, who had already been arrested on 3 November, was arrested again in the northwestern district of Lakki Marwat while covering an opposition demonstration. The security forces took his camera.

"The government's blackmailing of Pakistan's TV stations, banned since 3 November, is unacceptable," Reporters Without Borders said. "The authorities have asked TV executives to eliminate outspoken programmes, sideline the most independent journalists and sign a code of conduct requiring self-censorship."

The organisation added: "We are pleased for Pakistani viewers, who were desperate for news information, but we continue to demand the unconditional return of all the TV stations. We also condemn yesterday's arrests of three journalists, two in Quetta and one near Peshawar."

Aaj TV's news editor confirmed to Reporters Without Borders on 15 November that the government told cable operators they could resume distributing its programming after it had dropped two talk shows "Live With Talat" and "Bolta Pakistan." Cable operators were also allowed to restore distribution of the recently-launched Dawn News.

The BBC and CNN, which had been censored, like the Pakistani news TV stations, were also once again available to the millions of Pakistani homes that have cable.

ARY TV and Geo TV, on the other hand, are still banned. ARY TV journalists said the government was demanding the elimination of talk shows presented by hosts Kashif Abbas and Asthma Shirazi as a precondition for allowing the station back on the air. Both Geo TV and ARY TV reportedly refused to give assurances that they would not broadcast comments critical of the government.

Journalists Hamid Mir and Shahid Masood of Geo TV have been singled out for criticism by the authorities. Several sources said government members were pressuring TV station owners to give a commitment to get their employees to adopt a code of conduct drafted by the government that requires self-censorship on political matters.

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