Pakistani private TV channels go off air

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : Transmission of all private television channels in Pakistan was blocked by the government soon after the imposition of emergency by President General Pervez Musharraf Saturday evening.

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“Switch off all television channels before 6.00 p.m.,” a cable operator in Islamabad quoted the government official as saying. Identifying himself as Nisar, he said that an official of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) gave the order on telephone at around 4 p.m.

This was not the first occasion when the government ordered the cable operators to take all channels off air. Just a week back a similar order was given when the government launched military action against fundamentalists in Swat.

“Once we didn’t obey the order and our very costly equipment was confiscated by the PEMRA,” he said adding that all cable operators in the country were issued this order.

“Though fundamental rights are suspended in the state of emergency but right to information is the key right and should not be suspended,” Adnan Rehmat, country director for Internews, told IANS.

He said that it was very strange that the same government that gave unprecedented freedom to the media was trying to gag it.

“This is a huge backward step… right now only one TV channel is giving news and that is the state-run Pakistan Television, which gives very limited information,” Rehmat said demanding restoration of news channels.

While those having dish antennas were able to see the programmes, some TV channels said their transmission even on dish antennas was being blocked. In Pakistan most of the channels get satellite links through the Pakistan Television itself.