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Channels blocked, papers burnt over coverage of shoes thrown at Zardari

Channels blocked, papers burnt over coverage of shoes thrown at Zardari
Hated man: A demonstrator hits a photograph of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari with his shoe before Zardari was due to speak at a Pakistan Peoples Party rally in Birmingham, central England, August 7, 2010. President Zardari's visit to Britain has been clouded by a diplomatic spat over terrorism and he has faced criticism for being away from his country during devastating floods.Photo: Getty Images / Daylife

The transmissions of Pakistan's two leading private TV news channels were blocked, and copies of two newspapers were burnt in Karachi and some other parts of the country. The incidents were carried out Sunday by activists of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in reaction to the airing and printing of news about the hurling of shoes at PPP Co-Chairman and President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, during his address in Birmingham, England on August 7.

The Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) said that the offices of two cable operators, Giya cable and Show Time TV cable in Karachi, were also set ablaze by angry PPP activists after the operators refused to shut down the two channels' transmissions. Cable operators said the PPP workers, backed by contingents of police, forced their way into their offices and urged them to shut down the transmissions. Two cable operators in Karachi, World Call and Media Plus Communication (MPC), blocked the transmission of Geo TV and ARY News at 2:00am on the morning of August 8.

The shoe-throwing incident occurred in Birmingham on Saturday night, as Zardari was speaking to a closed meeting of Pakistanis who live in England. The official Pakistani government news service issued a story stating the reports were not true, citing “the sensational and unverified reporting by media.” The Associated Press reported from Birmingham that the unnamed heckler was apparently angered by the government’s poor response to widespread flooding in the country that has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

ARY News reported the shut down on its website, saying that it had decided to challenge the government action in the Supreme Court. Shahid Masood, President of ARY Digital Network, said that the network had no trust in any state institution and therefore had decided to approach the judiciary. He appealed to Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry to take notice of the blocking of the transmissions and the attack on the cable operators.

The transmission of the two news channels remained blocked on August 9 in major cities of Sindh province, including Karachi, Hyderabad, Nawabshah, Sukkur and others.

Muhammad Imran, a cable operator for Reno Cable Network in Karachi, told PPF that the network's offices were attacked by armed PPP activists who assaulted some of the cable operator's personnel. The employees said they had no choice but to block the transmission of Geo TV and ARY News.

Various press clubs in Pakistan, including those based in Karachi, Peshawar, Mardan, Chakwal, Bahawalpur and other cities, held emergency meetings to discuss the actions of the ruling party. On August 8, the Punjab Union of Journalists (PUJ) and the Lahore Press Club (LPC) announced that a protest demonstration would be staged the next day against the anti-media steps of the ruling party. The Association of Television Journalists and Pakistan News Agencies Council (PNAC) also strongly condemned the blocking of the TV channels and the torching of copies of the dailies.

The Jang Group management tried to file a criminal complaint against the burning of the newspaper copies but the police refused to accept the complaint.

Pakistan's major political parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), have condemned the burning of the newspaper copies and the blocking of the TV channels. They demanded the immediate restoration of the TV channels and sanctions for the culprits.

PPP Sindh chapter General Secretary Taj Haider condemned anti-media attacks but claimed that the ruling PPP had nothing to do with the incidents. He said the PPP had never exhibited negative policies against the media. He rejected allegations levelled against the party workers.

“With Pakistan in the middle of the civil calamity brought about by massive flooding, the country needs its news media more than ever,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator. Shutting down two leading cable operators during a critical time in Pakistan is frankly a selfish attempt by the government to protect itself. The order to take GEO TV and ARY News is a monumental error, and should be rescinded immediately.”

The Associated Press of Pakistan reported today that 1,204 have died and 1,309 have been injured, with 4,772 villages and more than 3 million people affected by the flooding. The United Nations put the number of affected considerably higher. The U.N. estimates that 6 million people have been affected by the floods, which have inundated villages, killing people and destroying homes, crops, the infrastructure, and other property. Continuing rainfall has been hampering the emergency humanitarian response.

Date posted: August 10, 2010 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 227