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Pakistan 18 November 2005

Karachi-based radio station closed for broadcasting BBC earthquake programme

The closure of Karachi-based radio station Mast FM 103 for retransmitting a BBC World Service programme in Urdu about Pakistan’s recent earthquake was a “disproportionate” sanction, Reporters Without Borders said today, calling on the authorities to allow the station to resume broadcasting at once.

The press freedom organisation also condemned the fact that two Pakistani satellite TV stations, Rang and Vibe, have been threatened with sanctions if they do not stop carrying “foreign programmes.”

“It is true these radio and TV stations do not have appropriate licences but all they did was exercise their right to inform,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By preventing the Pakistani media from using quality news programmes, the regulatory authorities are applying archaic regulations without considering listeners’ and viewers’ interests.”

Police in the southern city of Karachi seized Mast FM 103’s transmitter and antennae on 14 November. Accompanied by representatives of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), police also raided the station’s studios and closed them down. The daily newspaper Dawn quoted a journalist as saying the police insulted several of the station’s employees.

The authorities said they acted after the station retransmitted a special programmme on the recent earthquake in northern Pakistan that had been produced by the Urdu-language section of the BBC World Service.

We have already taken measures against the station in the past for broadcasting foreign programmes,” Dawn quoted a PEMRA official as saying. “But the management went to the courts and the high court’s orders were clear - no radio station may broadcast this kind of programme. The station broke the law and we had to close it.”

The BBC World Service was forced in March to put an end to the re-transmission of its Urdu-language news bulletins by Mast FM 103 in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad. The PEMRA had threatened the station with sanctions at the time.

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