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Government lifts ban on Geo TV but forces it to remove some programmes

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders hails the lifting of a government ban on cable TV distribution of the privately-owned TV channel Geo News but deplores the fact that President Pervez Musharraf made it conditional on the suppression of some its programmes.

"Geo News has made a major contribution to improving Pakistanis' access to independent news since 2002 and should never have been banned," the press freedom organisation said. "The ban, which lasted more than 10 weeks, was aimed at silencing outspoken reporters and commentators and investigative reports that were often damning for the authorities."

Reporters Without Borders added: "It is regrettable that the government insisted on the withdrawal of certain programmes. This constitutes yet further evidence that censorship is unfortunately still the rule just a few weeks before the parliamentary elections scheduled for 18 February."

The Geo News ban was identified by Reporters Without Borders as one of the five key press freedom problems that need to be resolved before elections are held. The organisation also maintains that, despite government denials, the ordinances on the print and broadcast media impose censorship and should be repealed.

The amendments to the ordinances on the print media (RPPO 2002) and broadcast media (PEMRA 2002) enable the authorities to impose a three-year jail sentence on journalists who defame or mock the president.

Reporters Without Borders supports the "Free Media for Fair Pools" campaign organised by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

On 21 January 2008, Geo TV's management confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that President Musharraf gave permission on 19 January for Pakistani cable TV operators to resume distributing the news channel, Geo News, and its sister sports channel, Geo Super. Because of the Shiite festival of Muharram, Geo TV postponed the resumption of distribution until 21 January.

The agreement between Geo TV's owners and the government is conditioned on the suppression of news programmes hosted by Dr. Shahid Massod and Hamid Mir, two veteran journalists and commentators. They are allowed to continue working as journalists for the station, but cannot present their own programmes. The authorities also requested that columns by pro-government commentators should be published more often in "The News" and "Jang", two newspapers owned by the Geo TV group.

All of the Geo TV stations, which were banned on 3 November 2007, the day that a state of emergency was proclaimed, broadcast from Dubai.

Most of the other TV stations that were banned on 3 November resumed broadcasting after signing a code of conduct imposed by the government on 12 November.

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