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Pakistan government rules out live coverage during elections

18 December, 2007:

The government of Pakistan is trying to restrict coverage of the forthcoming elections.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has warned satellite television networks against airing live coverage, including telephone calls, that could “incite violence.”

The media regulator has asked networks to install time-delay equipment to prevent violations of its orders.

Broadcasters who do not abide by the regulation could face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $170,000.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists has described the warning as the Pakistani government’s attempt to prevent the free media from covering the elections scheduled for January 8, 2008.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, the United States, said it was “troubled by evidence of pressure on TV news channels in the run-up to the elections.”

Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said: “We call on the Musharraf government to cease intimidation of the broadcast media and allow full independent coverage of the political situation in Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf imposed restrictions on the media since imposing emergency rule on November 3, 2007.

Newspapers and television channels are specifically barred from showing images of suicide-bombers and their victims. The order also outlaws any material that purportedly defames government officials.

Many television stations in Pakistan were shut down. Those that wanted to restart broadcasting had to sign a “code of conduct” formulated by the government.

A report by the news agency Associated Press says that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority has complained that some television channels are still “airing live coverage and taking live telephone calls from public which contain baseless propaganda against Pakistan and incite people to violence.”

Pakistan’s Minister for Information Nisar Memon has, however, denied any censorship, adding that the onus lies on the independent channels to show that they are responsible by not stirring up political tensions. “Every one of us in Pakistan should share the responsibility and work for betterment of the country by keeping the environment conducive for the polls,” Nisar Memon was quoted as saying.

Media reports say that television networks are likely to comply with the Pakistani government’s threat and avoid giving live coverage of fiery speeches of Opposition leaders like former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, both of whom had returned to Pakistan recently from years of living in exile.

Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are already campaigning for the January 8, 2008 elections, vowing to do all they can to curtail Musharraf’s “dictatorial” powers.




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