Musharraf withdraws restrictions on private TV channels

By Xinhua

Islamabad : Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf Saturday ordered withdrawal of an ordinance enacted days ago to impose tighter restrictions on the country's electronic media.

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"The President has directed withdrawal of the ordinance," Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani said, adding the directive was issued during a meeting between the president and members of the Pakistan Broadcasters Association.

Durrani said the president asked the broadcasters association to prepare a code of conduct so that the TV channels do not " malign state institutions."

President Musharraf, highly critical of the media over their coverage of the judicial crisis, issued an ordinance on June 3 to increase control on the electronic media, sparking protests from journalists.

The ordinance authorized the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to halt broadcasters' transmissions, close offices, seize equipment, and revoke licenses without consulting a council of complaints.

The measure also increased the fine for violators to Pakistani rupees 10 million (about 166,666 U.S. dollars) from the existing one million rupees.

The presidential ordinance was issued a day after the PEMRA sent letters to all broadcasters in the country urging them not to air programs that "encourage" violence or promote "anti-state attitude."

Musharraf on March 9 suspended Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as chief justice on alleged charges of misuse of authority, a move termed by critics as an attempt to challenge the independence of the judiciary.

Local major private TV channels had broadcast live frequent street demonstrations staged by lawyers and opposition groups criticizing the chief justice's suspension.

The government had called on broadcasters to stop airing live broadcasts of the demonstrations, saying the coverage "instigated the crowd."