New York, August 10, 2010--
Pakistan's major news broadcasters ARY TV and GEO TV
are off the air in Karachi and Sindh province for a third day
since supporters of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of President Asif Ali Zardari have reportedly severed cable connections of the distributors that carry them. Demonstrations at the offices of the distributors and the stations, sometimes violent, continued today. Originally, the two stations were pulled off the air by the cable companies under pressure from party supporters on Saturday night.
Although the broadcasters were able to get back on air for a
few hours today and are being carried in most other parts of the country, staff
in both broadcasters' newsrooms told CPJ they do not expect to be able to
broadcast in Karachi
or Sindh in the coming days. Protests are widespread on both sides of the
The shutdown has not been ordered by the government, the
stations' staffers say. According to Mazhar Abbas, ARY's deputy news director, "This
is the president's party taking the law into its own hands."
Abbas confirmed local news reports that cable companies that
had defied the demonstrations and returned them to the air were hit with another
wave of protesters on Sunday, and many of their distribution cables around the
city were cut.
The PPP demonstrators have left behind written messages on
the stations' external walls, accusing the owners of being anti-Pakistan and
being allied with India and Israel, both
considered arch foes by many Pakistanis. The allegations are dangerous
accusations to make in politically
Journalists have waged their own demonstrations in Karachi and elsewhere
"This is Pakistani politics at its worst. While the country
faces a national calamity and the outside world scrambles to offer its assistance,
the Pakistan Peoples Party can find nothing better to do than to try to close
down media and stifle criticism of President Zardari," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "We call on the government to
take control of this deteriorating situation and ensure the broadcasters return
to the air immediately."
The demonstrations against GEO and ARY started Saturday night
in Karachi, with
angry crowds demanding cable companies stop carrying the stations. They were
angered by reports the two stations carried about a heckler throwing his shoes
at Zardari at a meeting in England.
Much of the country's media had been critical of the president's trip while the
country is faced with the worst flooding it has experienced in years, but the
heckling and shoe throwing incident--a particularly insulting gesture in Pakistani
culture, which the official government news agency The Associated Press of
Pakistan denied had occurred--appears to have angered the PPP leadership in what
is the party's heartland.
United Nations says 1,600 people have been killed and nearly 14 million
affected in the disaster. More than a week ago, flooding hit the northwest of
the country. Rivers running south have hit many parts of Punjab
and Sindh--the center of the PPP's support.