Pakistani law enforcement officials detained a civil rights activist in Islamabad on Sunday following the imposition of a state of emergency in Pakistan. New York Times Photo.
The repercussions of President Pervez Musharraf imposition of a state of emergency in Pakistan are still being felt throughout Pakistan. Not only has the “second coup” disbanded the Supreme Court and appointed his own justices, detained political opposition, and postponed elections, it has placed serious restrictions on Pakistan’s robust, free media.
In a move to limit criticism of the government, judiciary, and the military, Musharraf amended the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance. If followed to the letter of the law, the new amendments will have a chilling effect on the flow of information on the spread of Islamist extremism in the tribal areas, the greater Northwest Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and in the heart of Pakistan.
The new regulations prevent the airing of Taliban and al Qaeda propaganda and images of the victims of suicide attacks. The regulations also prevent “any programme inciting violence or hatred or any action prejudicial to maintenance of law and order.” Discussions of current court cases are now prohibited.
Broadcasters cannot “broadcast anything which is known to be false or baseless or is malafide or for which there exist sufficient reasons to believe that the same may be false, baseless or malafide.” News outlets are prevented from propagating “any opinion or acts in any manner prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan.”
Perhaps the most damaging of the regulations prevents the media from broadcasting “anything which defames or brings into ridicule the Head of State, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organs of the state.” This clause is wide open for interpretation. Much of the news of the fighting against the Taliban and al Qaeda could be considered defamatory or would subject the government and military to ridicule.
The new media restrictions may potentially hinder the ability to closely follow the evolving situation in Pakistan, particularly in the ongoing fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier Province. The bulk of the information contained in The Fall of Northwestern Pakistan: An Online History is derived from the valuable and highly accurate Pakistani print and television news sources such as Dawn, Daily Times, The News, Geo News, Aaj, The Nations, The Pak Tribune, The Pakistan Observer, and the Frontier Post. Police have already raided Aaj TV.
Text of six of the amended clauses to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance:
“(j) not broadcast video footage of suicide bombers, terrorists, bodies of victims of terrorism, statements and pronouncements of militants and extremist elements and any other act which may, in any way, promote, aid or abet terrorists activities or terrorism;
(k) ensure that no anchor person, moderator or host propagates any opinion or acts in any manner prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan.
(l) not broadcast any programme inciting violence or hatred or any action prejudicial to maintenance of law and order;
(m) not broadcast anything which defames or brings into ridicule the Head of State, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organs of the state;
(n) not broadcast any programme or discussion on a matter which is sub-judice; and
(o) not broadcast anything which is known to be false or baseless or is malafide or for which there exist sufficient reasons to believe that the same may be false, baseless or malafide.”