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Media face retaliation over critical coverage of president's European visit

(PPF/IFEX) - On August 8, 2010, the transmissions of Pakistan's two leading private TV news channels, Geo TV and ARY News, were blocked, while copies of "The News" and "Daily Jang" newspapers were burnt in Karachi and some other parts of the country. This anti-media action was carried out by activists of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The action was reported to be in reaction to the airing and printing of news regarding the hurling of shoes at PPP Co-Chairman and President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, during his address in Birmingham, England on August 7.

According to reports published in "The News", the offices of two cable operators, Giya cable and Show Time TV cable in Karachi, were also set ablaze by angry PPP activists after the operators refused to shut down the two channels' transmissions.

The cable operators said the PPP workers, backed by contingents of police, forced their way into their offices and urged them to shut down the transmissions. Two cable operators in Karachi, World Call and Media Plus Communication (MPC), blocked the transmission of Geo TV and ARY News at 2:00am on the morning of August 8.

ARY News reported the shut down on its website, saying that it had decided to challenge the government action in the Supreme Court. Dr. Shahid Masood, President of ARY Digital Network, said that the network has no trust in any state institution and therefore has decided to approach the judiciary. He appealed to Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry to take notice of the blocking of the transmissions and the attack on the cable operators.

The transmission of the two news channels remained blocked on August 9 in major cities of Sindh province, including Karachi, Hyderabad, Nawabshah, Sukkur and others.

Muhammad Imran, a cable operator for Reno Cable Network in Karachi, told PPF that the network's offices were attacked by armed PPP activists who assaulted some of the cable operator's personnel. The employees said they had no choice but to block the transmission of Geo TV and ARY News.

Various press clubs in Pakistan, including those based in Karachi, Peshawar, Mardan, Chakwal, Bahawalpur and other cities, held emergency meetings to discuss the actions of the ruling party. On August 8, the Punjab Union of Journalists (PUJ) and the Lahore Press Club (LPC) announced that a protest demonstration would be staged the next day against the anti-media steps of the ruling party. The Association of Television Journalists and Pakistan News Agencies Council (PNAC) also strongly condemned the blocking of the TV channels and the torching of copies of the dailies.

The Jang Group management tried to file a criminal complaint against the burning of the newspaper copies but the police refused to accept the complaint.

Pakistan's major political parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), have strongly condemned the burning of the newspaper copies and the blocking of the TV channels. They demanded the immediate restoration of the TV channels and sanctions for the culprits.

PPP Sindh chapter General Secretary Taj Haider condemned anti-media attacks but claimed that the ruling PPP had nothing to do with the incidents. He said the PPP had never exhibited negative policies against the media. He rejected allegations levelled against the party workers.
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