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Pakistan 27 December 2005

Ban on foreign TV stations puts cable TV operators under pressure

Reporters Without Borders today condemned an order issued by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on 22 December instructing cable TV operators to stop carrying some 30 foreign TV channels under pain of fines and arrest. Most of the banned channels are Indian.

“It is regrettable at a time of political rapprochement between Pakistan and India that millions of Pakistanis are being denied the right to watch TV channels simply because they are foreign,” the press freedom organisation said.

“The way the PEMRA exercises its authority is worse than chaotic,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “It protects neither free competition, nor the interests of the cable operators, nor the right of Pakistanis to information. The cable operators should be listened to and heeded, not threatened with reprisals.”

The Pakistani government banned all Indian TV channels in 2002 on the grounds that their programming was “contrary to national interest.”

The list of banned foreign channels sent on 22 December to all Pakistani cable operators includes entertainment, sports and news channels. The list names Indian channels such as MM Movie and Star Network, but also National Geographic and Fashion TV. PEMRA spokesman Muhammad Saleem said none of the stations had permission to broadcast in Pakistan.

Khalid Shaikh, the president of the Pakistani Association of Cable Television Operators, said “the damage from such a decision is disastrous for cable TV operators (...) It is also a great loss for the public.”

The communication minister said at a conference organised by the PEMRA in 2004 that Pakistan should consider lifting a ban on the broadcasting of Indian TV stations in order to improve confidence between the two countries.

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