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South Asia 20 April 2005

BBC World Service news programmes blocked in Nepal and Pakistan

Reporters Without Borders expressed serious concern at the recent blocking of BBC World Service FM news programmes to Nepal and Pakistan and urged governments in Kathmandu and Islamabad to allow them to resume as soon as possible.

These acts of censorship were a step backwards from pluralism of radio news in South Asia after years of liberalisation, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. In this region only India has still not granted licences allowing FM radios to broadcast foreign news programmes.

State-run Radio Nepal stopped broadcasting the BBC World Service news without any explanation on 22 March 2005, replacing the English-language bulletins with music. They had started in November 2004 after a contract was signed between the British radio and the Nepalese station.

News programmes have been banned since 1st February on some 50 Nepalese radio stations which are only authorised to broadcast entertainment.

In Pakistan, the BBC World Service was forced on 2 March to halt Urdu-language news programmes relayed to Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad via the radio station Mast FM103.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), the government body responsible for regulating the broadcast media, was threatening to take sanctions against Mast FM103 for supposedly breaking the conditions of its licence by putting out the British radio’s news bulletins.

Management of Mast FM103 has lodged an application at a Lahore court seeking the lifting of the ban. No decision was reached at the first hearing on 14 April. The lawyer for the defence, Raza Kazim, stressed the quality of the BBC programmes, against which there had so far been no complaints. The judge suggested that the PEMRA should take all Mast FM103’s proposals into consideration, which gave rise to hopes of a favourable outcome at the next hearing which is due on 5 May.

The Indian government has never granted licences allowing news programmes to be relayed to Indian or foreign radio stations. Only the government station All India Radio is allowed to broadcast news on FM.

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