Media Closures an Attempt to stifle government criticism: Freedom House
Washington: The recent closure of independent television stations and burning of newspapers in Pakistan signals continued intolerance by the Pakistani government to criticism and a blow to press freedom, according to Freedom House.
“Despite significant improvements in press freedom in Pakistan over the last couple of years, the Zardari administration has a history of intolerance to criticism,” said Paula Schriefer, advocacy director of Freedom House. “These are the kinds of actions we would expect from the previous military regime, not an elected, civilian government.”
Conditions for the media improved following the election of a civilian government in February 2008, but the suspension of private broadcasts has been used repeatedly by the new government on a number of occasions since then. In 2009, several television stations were shut down a number of times, including amidst demonstrations against Zardari in March and for several hours after a terrorist attack on army headquarters in October.
Additionally, the government has removed video deemed unflattering to Zardari and other leading politicians on YouTube and other video-sharing sites, causing concern that Pakistan will broaden its censorship to the internet. Activists in the country report that SMS services are already being disrupted.
“In addition to the obvious restriction these closures place on free expression, they also disrupt the free flow of information to citizens, which could have devastating consequences during a crisis such as the floods occurring in the country now,” said Karin Karlekar, managing editor of Freedom of the Press, Freedom House’s annual survey of global press freedom.
Pakistan is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.
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The Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.
Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), The Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) and Community to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that the ruling party had taken matters into its own hands and shut down media outlets carrying the story of shoes throwing on President Asif Ali Zardari, with armed government supporters and police violently repressing press freedom.
The Pakistani community abroad and at home is angered by the President’s visit to Europe when the country is dealing with the disaster of continuing floods, says the IFJ.
Offices of two cable operators in Karachi were torched by PPP activists, backed by a contingent of police, after operators refused to shut down transmissions of Geo TV. After armed PPP activists attacked the Reno Cable Network offices in Karachi and assaulted its staff, the cable operator was forced to block its transmissions.
Cable operators that defied demonstrations and returned to the air were stuck by a wave of protesters and many had their distribution cables cut. A private TV channel’s deputy news director says the shut down is not coming from the president, “This is the president’s party taking the law into its own hands,” reports CPJ.
Relations between the privately owned Geo News and the state have deteriorated because of the station’s coverage of corruption involving President Zardari, reports the RSF.
Source: The News