Reporters Without Borders today announced its support for the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists’ plan to oppose a return to censorship after yesterday’s government announcement of new restrictions on press freedom, above all a ban on live broadcast coverage of outdoor events.
"This arbitrary decision is a new stage in the move back to the sinister times of state censorship," Reporters Without Borders said. "We hope that, with the support of the public and international community, the protests of Pakistan’s journalists will make the government back down. We were the first to hail the creation of privately-owned TV stations. But it is not by gagging them that President Pervez Musharraf will solve the current political crisis."
Information minister Mohammad Ali Durrani announced at a news conference yesterday that the federal government had decided to impose new restrictions on the media and warned them not to cross the "legal limits." He said the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) would be in charge of ensuring that TV stations respect the ban on live coverage of outdoor events without prior permission.
Clearly very irritated by the extensive live coverage of a recent seminar in which the deposed supreme court president took part, Durrani said: "The armed forces of Pakistan have embraced martyrdom whenever the country faced any threat... We cannot, therefore, let the defenders of our frontiers be maligned and defamed."
At the same time that Durrani was giving his news conference, a military intelligence agency, the ISPR, issued a release to the media confirming the restrictions.
Cable and satellite TV operators subsequently stopped carrying the privately-owned television stations ARY Digital and Aaj TV. ARY Digital representative Mohsin Raza told Reporters Without Borders that the government claimed to be unaware of this. "And when we call the cable operators, they tell us that it was the government that asked them to do this."
A representative of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists told Reporters Without Borders that his union intended to call a one-day strike.
Gen. Musharraf’s government has been confronted by an unprecedented wave of opposition since the supreme court president’s dismissal on 9 March. The privately-owned broadcast media have been giving extensive coverage to anti-government demonstrations by lawyers and others.