October 13, 1999 (CPJ) -The Pakistani army took over state-run television and radio yesterday during a military coup against the civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistan Television (PTV) went off the air within hours of its broadcast announcing the prime minister’s dismissal of Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, which apparently prompted the coup. At around the same time, cellular phone service was interrupted throughout the country.
Army troops reportedly took over PTV’s headquarters in Islamabad at around 7:00 p.m. local time. All television and radio broadcasts were suspended shortly thereafter. By 10:20 p.m., all channels of PTV and Radio Pakistan had resumed transmissions, according to Pakistan’s well-respected English-language daily Dawn,though the programming consisted largely of patriotic songs and old documentaries.
A terse statement that “the Nawaz Sharif government has been dismissed,” which was attributed to General Musharraf, was then broadcast over national television and radio. Musharraf eventually addressed the nation in English at around 2:45 a.m. local time. He asked Pakistanis “to remain calm and support your armed forces in the reestablishment of order” and pledged to come out with a more detailed policy statement “very soon,” according to a transcript published on Dawn’swebsite.
No statement had been issued by the evening of October 13: according to Dawn,legal experts and military authorities were conferring in Islamabad in an attempt to find a way out of the current constitutional crisis.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based organization that works to defend media freedom around the world, is concerned that a military takeover in Pakistan may lead to the imposition of tight controls over reporting there, particularly in light of the army’s quick assertion of control over the country’s broadcast media. In the 52 years since Pakistan’s independence from the British, the nation has undergone 25 years of army rule marked by the erosion of civil liberties. Previous military dictators have imposed strict censorship regulations, with harsh penalties for journalists whose reporting was not to their liking.