Pakistan: why media matters

Pervez MusharrafDespite the government’s best efforts, television and electronic media had a profound effect on how Pakistanis voted in this week’s election, says Zubeida Mustafa

Two days before the elections in Pakistan on 18 February, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) gave a scathing indictment of the state of media freedom in the country. HRW expressed concern at what it saw as limits on the public’s right of information which would “undermine the chances that Pakistan will have free and fair elections.”

When polling day arrived, these apprehensions largely proved to be unfounded. The press, which has of late escaped the government’s rigorous scrutiny, did not by and large feel unduly curbed. In a country with less than 50 per cent literacy, and newspapers with circulation not exceeding four digits, the government now probably feels it has nothing to fear from the printed word.

If an authoritarian government feels threatened by the free flow of information, its fears are now directed at the electronic media. Eighty private television channels have mushroomed in Pakistan in the last few years — with the government’s permission of course — ever since President Musharraf’s regime decided to end the monopoly of the state-owned Pakistan Television Corporation and give licenses to private stations. Initially they were given a free run and no attempt was made to regulate them. But when their “activism” and dynamic reporting of events — especially the anti-Musharraf lawyers’ movement last year — began to hurt the regime it cracked down with a heavy hand on them.


Geo back on air

Pakistan’s popular television news channel, Geo, resumed broadcasting on 21 January, after two months off air.


Pakistan: Coping with censorship


As President Musharraf announces that he will end Pakistan’s state of emergency on 16 December, Shirin B Sadeghi looks at how the media has responded to the crackdown

When President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency on 3 November, one of the first casualties was the independent media.

Having shut down every broadcasting station but state run television, Musharraf’s government proceeded to raid the offices of independent news channels such as Geo News and Aaj television. Phone lines were cut, some stations reported jamming, and there were threats of long jail terms for broadcasters who would not comply. Hundreds of journalists were arrested. But two independent news channels continued to broadcast live. Geo News and ARY One World transmitted broadcasts from their bureaus in Dubai. The predictable surge in satellite dish purchases after the state of emergency was quickly followed by a government ban, but nonetheless Geo and ARY remained accessible within Pakistan.