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TWO TV NEWS CHANNELS BLOCKED DURING PROTESTS

The government ordered cable operators to block transmission signals for two of Pakistan's largest independent TV news broadcasters, "Geo News" and "Aaj TV", last Friday during protests, allege the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

By intercepting the stations' signals in major cities, the government was attempting to censor coverage of protest rallies, PPF says. Hundreds of lawyers and political activists were arrested after opposition leader Nawaz Sharif called for a "long march" from Lahore to Islamabad to demand the reinstatement of Chief Justice Itikhar Chaudhry and other judges who were sacked two years ago by former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf. As a result of the continued pressure, Chaudhry and 10 other judges were reinstated Monday and most of the jailed protestors have been released.

While government representatives have denied blocking the channels, a cable operator told PPF that a director of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority ordered him over the phone to stop the transmission of "Geo News" and "Aaj TV." CPJ also reports that cable companies contacted by Geo TV said government officials had ordered them to drop the station.

"The verbal instructions given by officials to cable service providers were not only a blatant attack on freedom of expression but are clearly illegal under Pakistani laws," says Owais Aslam Ali, secretary general of PPF. "If the government is sincere in its stated commitment to freedom of expression, it should order an independent investigation into the matter and bring to justice officials responsible for these unconstitutional and illegal actions."

The transmission blockages suggest Pakistan's civilian government is continuing with the repressive tactics used against the media by the Musharraf government, says CPJ. "The promise of open media in Pakistan has been dealt another blow, this time from a civilian government."
The resignation over the weekend of Pakistan's federal information minister, Sherry Rehman, is a further sign of this worrying trend. Rehman, herself a former editor, reportedly resigned in protest after disagreeing with government officials on media restrictions.
Visit these links:
- PPF: http://tinyurl.com/dmn5sf
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/c6npa6
For IFEX's Pakistan page, visit: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/158
(18 March 2009)

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