New York, April 26, 2007— Government regulators have ordered Royal TV off the air after its coverage of recent demonstrations concerning the dismissal of the chief judge of the country’s top court, the station said in a statement Wednesday. The largely Urdu-language station ordinarily broadcasts by satellite to the capital, Islamabad, and to nearby Rawalpindi, and it is distributed by cable in other Pakistani cities. It was not broadcasting today, according to local sources.
In its statement, Royal TV said the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority issued the order on Tuesday. The station said the order stemmed from its coverage of ongoing demonstrations surrounding the removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. The agency, also known as PEMRA, did not offer an immediate public explanation.
“The Pakistani government has made many pledges to respect press freedom—yet here is a major story that deserves extensive coverage and the government is not living up to its word,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Authorities need to back down and allow the press to do its job.”
CPJ sent a letter to President Pervez Musharaf on Wednesday, protesting PEMRA’s order that Aaj TV cease operations due to its coverage of the judicial dispute. The moves on Royal and Aaj are part of a larger assault on Pakistani media groups that are covering the dispute and other antigovernment demonstrations, CPJ research shows.
The Dawn Group accused the government in March of punishing it by withholding about two-thirds of state advertising since December 2006, as well as withholding a television broadcast license. And on March 15, riot police used tear gas and batons when they swept through the Islamabad offices of Geo TV, Pakistan’s leading private TV station, which also housed the Daily Jang and The News newspapers, all owned by the Jang Group.