Islamabad, June 3 (AP): Pakistani media warned the government today that efforts to rein in coverage of a three-month-old crisis over the President’s suspension of the Chief Justice could backfire.
An independent media has been one of the accomplishments President Pervez Musharraf has touted during his nearly eight years in power to counter accusations of authoritarian rule.
But the public outcry over his March 9 suspension of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry for alleged abuse of power has strained the limits of what the government is willing to tolerate as Musharraf prepares to seek another term.
Although not directly linked to the government, some journalists were beaten or threatened for their coverage of deadly riots in Karachi a month ago. The violence appeared to have been instigated by backers of a party linked to Musharraf’s government against Chaudhry’s supporters.
Faced with ongoing live coverage of the rallies, the government claimed some networks had violated their own code of conduct by losing objectivity and were undercutting national stability.
As Chaudhry prepared for another speech, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority issued letters to TV channels yesterday, urging them not to air programmes that “encourage” violence, or promote an “anti-state attitude”.
The channels were also asked not to air programmes that contain “aspersions against the judiciary and the integrity of the armed forces” or malign or slander anyone in public life, said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by AP. Broadcasters say verbal messages they received privately were even more blunt: stop live coverage of Chaudhry rallies.
The Pakistan Broadcasters Association, a grouping of private TV operators, called the restrictions an “attack” on its right of expression.
In a resolution, they praised the government for having granted “exemplary liberty to the media”.
“However, at this critical juncture, the government’s resolve is under severe test,” it said. “The government must show tolerance and should be able to absorb criticism in the larger national interest.”