Nirupama Subramanian

After post-Emergency blackout on private television

Private channels and viewers are finding other ways to defy the ban

All issues will be resolved soon: Pakistan Information Minister

ISLAMABAD: When the Pakistan cricket team was smashing its way to victory at the Mohali cricket one-dayer, most fans back home did not get to see anything of the scintillating match, thanks to post-Emergency blackout on private television which includes sports and entertainment channels. CNN and BBC were also taken off the air.

Geo Sports has the telecast rights for the match, but the ban on all four Geo channels, including news, sports, entertainment and music, meant that most of cricket-crazy Pakistan did not get to see a single ball being bowled.

Since November 3, the blackout on televisions channels has left Pakistani viewers with only the state-run Pakistan Television, which would have shared the cricket telecast rights with Geo had the ban not intervened.

Clampdown difficult

But in the age of an information revolution, the Pakistan government is finding it difficult to clamp down completely on the media. Private channels and viewers are finding other ways to defy the ban, even if these methods cannot match up to the ease and convenience of cable television.

Geo, and two other popular news channels that are banned, Aaj and ARY, continue to show their programmes through satellite. That means Pakistanis abroad as well as those in the country with access to satellite dishes are able to watch the programmes.

Earlier this week, the government cracked down on satellite dish traders in Karachi and Lahore, with police citing customs regulations that the shops did not have for shutting them down. That has not stopped the trading altogether, but it has sent up the prices.

Those without satellite dishes but with access to a high-speed Internet connection are managing to catch news that they would not hear on PTV on their computers. But trouble is never far behind. On Friday, the Geo site was hacked and went off the Internet for several hours.

Pakistani journalists have mounted a vociferous campaign against the curbs on the electronic media. On Saturday, a large group of journalists gathered at the office of Aaj TV and marched to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, demanding that the government roll back the curbs.

Benazir joins protest

Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto also showed up at the protest with several of her party members to express solidarity with the journalists.

Also on Saturday, Geo moved the Sindh High Court against the ban on its channels, describing it is as “illegal.” Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani told PTV that the government was in talks with the owners of the television channels and “all issues would be resolved amicably soon.”

Print media left intact

While private television has been gagged, the government appears not to have touched the print media so far. Both Urdu and English newspapers are daily coming out strongly in condemnation of the Emergency.

In an editorial on Saturday, the Dawn came down heavily on the blackout on private television channels, and demanded that the government withdraw it immediately.

3 U.K. scribes told to go

Pakistan on Saturday ordered three British reporters to leave the country within 72 hours for using “foul and abusive language” against the country and its leadership.

Two of the reporters are with Daily Telegraph and one with the Sunday Telegraph. The journalists declined to comment on their expulsion as it was against their newspapers’ policy. “Three foreign journalists have been given 72 hours to leave. They were using foul and abusive language against Pakistan and Pakistan’s leadership,” Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim said.

It is believed that the decision to expel them was triggered by an editorial that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Friday.