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Pakistan increases powers to shut down broadcasters

The new government ordinance follows a tightening of media rules last week that effectively bans live television coverage of opposition rallies in support of the country's suspended top judge.

world Updated: Jun 05, 2007 05:51 IST
Karman Haider

Pakistan on Monday gave the state broadcasting authority more powers to shut down television stations, as two channels accused authorities of disrupting broadcasts because of their coverage of an opposition campaign.

The new government ordinance follows a tightening of media rules last week that effectively bans live television coverage of opposition rallies in support of the country's suspended top judge.

President Pervez Musharraf, who is also army chief, had accused some television networks of unbalanced reporting of the opposition campaign against his rule. The government has also objected to opposition criticism of the army.

Government attempts to remove Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry have touched off a broad campaign by his supporters and opposition parties against Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup.

The unrest has snowballed into a broad pro-democracy campaign. It poses the most serious challenge yet to the authority of Musharraf, an important US ally, and comes in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections.

The ordinance introduced on Monday gives the state Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) power to revoke a broadcaster's license without referring the case to a complaints council.

"This ordinance gives more power for the PEMRA to implement its rules and take actions against violators," the secretary of the Ministry of Law, Mansoor Ahmed, told Reuters.

"The PEMRA can confiscate transmission equipment or withdraw the license of any broadcaster who violates its rules," he said.

The ordinance also increases the maximum fine for violators to up to 10 million rupees, from one million previously.

"Making things difficult"

The Pakistani media has flourished under Musharraf and he hails media freedom as one of his government's achievements.

Musharraf apologised and criticised police after they ransacked a television station office during a protest in Islamabad just after Musharraf suspended Chaudhry over unspecified accusations of misconduct on March 9.

But private television stations Aaj and Geo both said on Monday their transmissions had been disrupted and viewers' screens had intermittently gone blank in recent days.

"They have been disrupting our transmissions and making things difficult for us because of our coverage," Syed Talat Hussain, news director at Aaj, said before the ordinance was issued.

"There was a smooth flow of information which I think has hurt someone and that's why they're taking such actions," said Nasir Baig Chugtai, news director at Geo.

The PEMRA denied interfering with the stations' transmissions. "We have no information about that. We have not imposed any ban," said spokesman Mohammad Saleem.