The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for the Pakistani government to allow GEO TV and ARY News stations back on the air. The shutdown, coupled with demonstrations by government supporters outside the cable companies’ facilities Saturday night came soon after the stations aired news about a protester throwing shoes at Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari during a speech in England.
According to ARY News’ correspondent Jamal Khan Baluch: “On Saturday evening in Karachi, the staff of President Zardari called cable operators and ordered them to block ARY News transmissions all over Pakistan. When some cable operators refused to do so they started threatening and sent their armed people to different cable operators’ locations, where they started firing towards their offices and their staff.”
There were no serious injuries reported. Staffers at Geo News in Pakistan confirmed the story. Both networks’ news desks said the ban is still in effect. According to Pakistani media reports, the demonstrators outside of the cable companies’ facilities were supporters of Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
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.
Soon after the Saturday incident, GEO’s website reported that some PPP leaders and government officials had warned cable operators across the country to cease transmission of GEO, but most refused to do so. As of this morning, “most of the cable companies in all the large cities have been forced to stop carrying ARY and Geo—it’s not just in Karachi,” Baluch told CPJ today.
“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 program 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 The order to take GEO TV and ARY News is a monumental error, and should be rescinded immediately.”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.
Today, journalists demonstrated in front of Karachi Press Club, protested the shutdown of the stations, demanding they be allowed back on the air.