The Pakistan army has imposed censorship by various means on the independent news coming out of the areas where the army is conducting operations against militants. Officers of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), are reported to have been calling media officials to their offices and telling them to stop covering the news independently and to use only the ISPR press notes or information from the daily briefings of the ISPR.
Prior to the start of the South Waziristan operation (Oct 17),
representatives from the print and electronic media and also
journalists were reportedly asked by the army not to publish or air
independent views about the operation for fear that it will provide
assistance to the militants.
The journalists are only allowed to remain at Dera Ismail Khan, where persons displaced by the military operations are arriving for
During the normal course of the day journalists are prevented
from entering operational areas and the restrictions are rigidly
It is only when the military is successful in some phase of
the operation that they allow media personnel to cover that specific situation. Since the operation started, the military has taken selected journalists on helicopter tours to the affected areas on only two occasions. The journalists have been taken from Islamabad, and from Peshawar. However, they were not allowed to move about freely or without supervision.
The BBC Urdu service, a popular radio programme in the country, is disliked by the army as it broadcasts interviews through telephone calls directly from the military operation zones. In the effort to stop the BBC Urdu programmes, particularly its Sairbeen programme, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was used to stop the many FM radio stations who broadcast the BBC Urdu news on the hour, 16 hours a day. Those stations are: FM 103, FM106.2, FM 107, FM Apna, FM Ninety-One, FM Okara, FM Highway and FM Gujrat and Islamabad.
On the other hand the BBC Urdu broadcast was not stopped in Pakistani held Kashmir.
The BBC Urdu news has been broadcasting from different FM channels, under agreement with the BBC Broadcasting house for two years but PEMRA has turned a blind eye to their broadcasts. Since the start of the military operation in South Waziristan, however, PEMRA has been reportedly asked to put pressure on the broadcasting houses that relay the BBC Urdu news.
The ISPR has increased its pressure on the media and in the latest
development an official of the BBC Pakistan was called to the ISPR
head office, Islamabad on November 2, and asked not to
broadcast the interviews or statements of the militants as it would
create misunderstanding among the people of Pakistan. The officer who spoke to the BBC official asked him why Hakim Ullah Mehsood (the head of the Taliban, Pakistan) spoke directly to the BBC over the telephone. Hakeem Ullah Mehsood, the army declared, is a notorious terrorist. The previous week, a BBC Pakistan reporter stationed at Peshawar, was telephoned by an army officer and told not to interview the residents of the areas affected by the military operation and also not to entertain the Taliban in any way. On another occasion some journalists were told that human rights violations take second place to the importance of the army’s action against the militants and their activities.
According to a responsible authority at the BBC Pakistan office, the
Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Salman Basheer, spoke to the British High Commissioner at Islamabad on November 2, and asked him to pressurise the BBC Urdu news not to issue interviews of the terrorists and residents of the affected areas. This message was duly conveyed to the BBC Pakistan.
PEMRA has ordered some radio stations not to broadcast BBC Urdu-language news programmes, while Parliament, (at the same time), is preparing to ratify drastic censorship dating from the era of General Musharraf.
The parliamentary information committee chaired by an MP from the ruling PPP on 29 October, decided that legal provisions on electronic media set out in November 2007, should be incorporated into the PEMRA act. These articles ban TV stations
from broadcasting footage that could “disturb the public order”
including statements from extremist groups, or those ridiculing or
defaming the head of state, the armed forces or the judicial system.
Programme presenters are targeted in clause 6 that bans them from putting out any news “prejudicial to Pakistan’s ideology” and
These draconian provisions were revoked by the former information minister, Sherry Rehman, after the PPP was returned to power. This decision, which had been supported by some opposition parties, was linked to growing criticism of government management of public affairs.
The committee also planned to set up councils in the four provinces and the federal capital to accept complaints from citizens about media content.
The situation of undeclared censorship of the media by the Army and its organisations is alarming for the growth of healthy
journalism in the country. The actions of military and paramilitary
organisations provide a good space for the militant groups and other political groups to use force against the media which would be harmful for the development of democracy and democratic institutions. In the presence of civilian rule and civilian laws, the security agencies do not have any authority to influence the free working of the media.
According to all international norms and standards and the
Constitution of Pakistan access to information is the right of the
people and people cannot be denied this fundamental right.
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