Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Musharraf Clamps Down on Media - And The Establishment Goes Quiet

Remember the furore over the refusal to renew RCTV's broadcasting licence? Even the BBC joined in the chorus of disapproving voices, even going so far as to claim that Venezuela was under 'militant rule' (before a cunning piece of stealth editing). Well, something similar has happened again, only this time it is by one of 'our' allies. Interestingly, there has not been a word of comment by many of those keen to jump on the Chavez as totalitarian rhetoric so beloved of Bush.

Over the week-end, President Musharraf gave us a glimpse of his totalitarian tendencies. As a result of the growing political storm in Pakistan, with calls for a return to democracy growing ever louder, Musharraf gave the order to take Geo TV off the air for promoting an "anti-state attitude" and casting "aspersions against the judiciary and the integrity of the armed forces". Geo TV was taken off the air shortly after an interview with Imran Khan on its flagship news programme, watched by around 30 million people. According to the president of the station:

"We had an interview with Imran Khan followed by a discussion about the military in politics. Suddenly it all went blank."

As well as the suspension, legislation has been introduced that provides for fines of up to £85,000 and the suspension of a station's licence.

This is not the first time that Geo TV has been attacked by the government. Back in March, Musharraf banned "The Kamran Kahn Show" due to its coverage of the dispute with a suspended Supreme Court judge. The station's offices were also raided by the police after broadcasting footage of them firing rubber bullets into a crowd of protesters. The bureau chief at the time is reported as stating that:

"Police have attacked our office, they are breaking windows. They are beating our staff. They have used tear gas shells. Even our female staff have been hurt. They are damaging our building."

And yet, silence from the very people who claim to stand for freedom of speech. Not even the BBC, so quick to criticise Chavez, have made any comment on this attack on the free press. Bush, unsurprisingly, failed to take the opportunity to remind Pakistan of its democratic responsibilities. According to the BBC:

Mr Bush also called for the "immediate and unconditional release" of dissidents in such nations as Belarus, Burma and Cuba.

He listed these nations, along with North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran and Syria as the "worst dictatorships" and criticised Venezuela, Uzbekistan and Vietnam for rolling back earlier "freedom".

Venezuela, but not Pakistan. Chavez refused to renew a license due to the failure to observe basic broadcasting laws. Musharraf has sent the police in to raid a TV station and has repeatedly taken it off the air. RCTV backed a coup in Venezuela. Geo TV is calling for a return to democracy. The differences are obvious and stark. And yet, nothing. Still, I guess that should be no surprise when the mainstream media describes an ideological opponent of Bush 'militant', whilst they gloss over the totalitarian tendencies of a close friend and ally. Once again, the establishment clubs together to protect one of their own.

Further info: Opinion piece by Geo TV's Group Executive Director

* In other Pakistan related news, via the BBC:

A woman and three men were shot dead in a public execution in a Pakistani village after tribal elders found them guilty of adultery, officials said.

Reports said the executions were watched by some 600 people.

Looks like Pakistan has long way to go before it is truly a democratic state worthy of friendship.