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Fall in line, Musharraf tells Pakistan media

Islamabad, Nov 11 (IANS) Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf Sunday cracked the whip at the domestic media, saying he believed in its independence but with adequate checks and balances.

“If the media is going to make heroes of the terrorists, god save the battle against terrorism,” he said at his first press conference after the declaration of emergency and enforcement of stringent media curbs Nov 3.

“I am for the independence of the media, and I am using the word I because it was I who gave independence to the media in Pakistan despite opposition from many,” Musharraf maintained.

“I still stand by this. But all that I desire, all that the government desires, is responsibility.

“What is responsibility? It is not you should not criticise the government. Do please criticise the government, do please criticise me. But there have to be checks on distortion of facts, on projecting non-truths, on the humiliation (of the bureaucracy and security forces),” he said.

“There is the issue of vulgarity, and I know there are complaints about this. So we have made a code of conduct, and I would like you to see this code. You must read the code of conduct.”

Without taking names, Musharraf singled out “a few” private TV channels for their critical comments in the run-up to the emergency declaration that has seen rights activists, opposition leaders and lawyers go to jail.

“May I say that there are only a few channels, and a few people in these channels, who by design or for their political agenda are doing this (criticism of the government).

“If everyone shows responsibility, we have no problems whatsoever with the independence of the media. But please also play a role in fighting terrorism.”

He also urged people to “please stop Pakistan from decaying, please understand the seriousness of the situation”.

All private TV channels and radio stations were yanked off the air immediately after the emergency was declared. Cable operators were barred from relaying international TV channels and Internet services were also restricted.

This led to rumours flying thick and fast and even pushed Musharraf to denying reports of his arrest.

On Saturday, the Pakistan government ordered the expulsion of three reporters of Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper in response to an opinion piece referring to Musharraf in what Pakistani officials called “foul and abusive language”.

The editorial, published Friday and titled “Bankrupt Relationship,” described Musharraf’s rule as a “combination of incompetence and brutality”.

“This was very, very unfair,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq said, justifying the expulsions.