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UAE allows one Pakistani TV station to resume broadcasting but government continues to block signal; two radio stations still censored in Pakistan

(RSF/IFEX) - On 30 November 2007, Reporters Without Borders wrote to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf asking him to quickly rescind his ban on the Geo TV group's various television stations and two independent radio stations, Power99 FM and Mast Fm 103.

Mr. Pervez Musharraf
President
Islamabad
Republic of Pakistan

Dear Mr. President,

The authorities in Dubai have just given the privately-owned TV station Geo News permission to resume broadcasting from the Emirate but its programmes are still banned in Pakistan. Your government is also preventing broadcasting by two privately-owned radio stations, whose equipment was seized when the state of emergency was imposed.

We hail the Dubai government's decision to restore Geo News's rights. Your government must now quickly follow this example and allow Pakistani cable operators to resume distribution of all of Geo TV's stations. Similarly, the sanctions that were unfairly imposed on the Pakistani news radio stations, Power99 FM and Mast FM 103, must be lifted immediately.

Amina Rustamani of the Dubai Media Centre announced yesterday that the Geo TV's Geo News is again authorised to broadcast from the Emirate. "Geo News will resume broadcasting at midnight from the Dubai Media Centre following productive discussion between the two parties," Rustamani said. In Pakistan, the only people with access to Geo TV's stations are those with satellite dishes, the importation of which is restricted.

As well as blocking Geo News, your government has also banned the broadcasts of the group's sports, entertainment and youth channels. "They are trying to strangle us financially by all possible means," Geo TV president Imran Aslam told us in a letter. "We are losing half a million dollars a day, a figure the government is well aware of and which must have been factored into its calculations," he wrote. "We are ready to dialogue with honour, but we will not submit to any humiliating accord and to conditions that undermine our credibility."

On 5 November, Geo TV petitioned the Sindh high court to lift the ban, but the government's representative is sidestepping any substantive debate and on 27 November, the government again claimed that it did not know why the station was blocked.

The Association of Independent Radio (AIR) has condemned the plight of Power99 FM and Mast FM 103 resulting from the seizure of their equipment on 3 November. "It was the editorial line of these two radio stations, above all, the attention they paid to current affairs, that prompted their closure," AIR chairman Najib Ahmed said. Employees at the two stations told Reporters Without Borders that the government has done nothing to enable them to resume broadcasting.

Although they were very popular, both because of their own news programmes and their retransmission of the Urdu-language news programmes of the BBC and Deutsche Welle, they are now on the verge of bankruptcy.

We are shocked by the methodical way your government has persecuted Geo TV and the independent radio stations. It seems that the sanctions aimed at bankrupting these independent companies are linked to their refusal to bow to certain dictates, in particular, the code of conduct established after the declaration of the state of emergency.

Mr. President, the arbitrary manner in which these popular and respected news media are being treated is having disastrous consequences for your country's international image and for the hundreds of Pakistani journalists who risk losing their jobs.

As you have announced that the state of emergency is to be lifted soon, we urge you, as a goodwill gesture, to restore all of Geo TV's stations as well as Power99 FM and Mast FM 103.

We trust in your commitment to press freedom.

Sincerely,

Robert Ménard
Secretary General

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