Musharraf Uses Press Licensing Laws to Clampdown on News Media in Pakistan

Reports are emerging from Pakistan that President Pervez Musharraf has shutdown independent news media within Pakistan and limited access to the Internet. Musharraf appears to be using, at least in part, Pakistan's press licensing laws to effectuate this clampdown.

Pakistan has a well developed set of laws governing its print, broadcast, and electronic media. Not surprisingly, Musharraf is using these laws to lend an air of legitimacy to his actions. According to the Hindustan Times:

Musharraf promulgated two separate ordinances imposing curbs on the print and the electronic media. Under the ordinances that amend the Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance, 2002, and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, 2002, the print and electronic media have been barred from printing and broadcasting "anything which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organ of the state."

The extent of Musharraf's curtailment of Internet access is unclear, however, with conflicting reports circulating today. The Associated Press reported that:

Authorities have blacked out TV networks and threatened broadcasters with jail time, but so far have spared the Internet and most newspapers.

Other reports from within Pakistan paint a grimmer picture. The Hindustan Times reports that:

Several Internet service providers were also asked to stop their service until further orders. "We were told at 6.30 p.m. yesterday (Saturday) to stop our service. We did stop it but started at around midnight and are still providing Internet access to our clients," a spokesman for a leading service provider said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

GlobalVoices Online, which provides a useful summary of commentary within the Pakistani blogosphere, advises that

it's time for the Society Against Internet Censorship in Pakistan to be active again. Dr Awab Alvi [a well known Pakistani blogger] sets the ball rolling by suggesting that international bloggers be given the right to blog on their behalf.

One of the first things oppressive governments do is take control of information. The Internet is a great leveler in this regard, but Burma -- and now Pakistan -- show us that even the mighty Internet has its limitations.

UPDATE: For background on Pakistan's Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance of 2002, Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance of 2002, and Defamation Ordinance of 2002, see Article 19 Global Campaign for Free Expression's memorandum analyzing the ordinances. The text of Musharraf's November 3 amendments to Pakistan's Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance can be found here.


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