Censorship in Pakistan
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The Pakistani Constitution limits Censorship in Pakistan, but allows "reasonable restrictions in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan or public order or morality". Press freedom in Pakistan is limited by official censorship that restricts critical reporting and by the high level of violence against journalists. The armed forces, the judiciary, and religion are topics that frequently attract the government's attention.
Pakistan is a Muslim-majority country. Hence, it has several pro-Muslim laws in its Constitution. Freedom House ranked Pakistan 134th out of 196 countries in its 2010 Freedom of the Press Survey. Pakistan's score was 61 on a scale from 1 (most free) to 100 (least free), which earned a status of "not free".
Reporters Without Borders put Pakistan 151st out of the 178 countries ranked in its 2010 Press Freedom Index and named Pakistan as one of "ten countries where it is not good to be a journalist". It said:
... in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Mexico, countries either openly at war or in a civil war or some other kind of internal conflict, we see a situation of permanent chaos and a culture of violence and impunity taking root in which the press has become a favorite target. These are among the most dangerous countries in the world, and the belligerents there pick directly on reporters ....
And the "Close-up on Asia" section of the same report, goes on to say:
In Afghanistan (147th) and in Pakistan (151st), Islamist groups bear much of the responsibility for their country’s pitifully low ranking. Suicide bombings and abductions make working as a journalist an increasingly dangerous occupation in this area of South Asia. And the State has not slackened its arrests of investigative journalists, which sometimes more closely resemble kidnappings.
Newspapers, television, and radio are regulated by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which occasionally halts broadcasts and closes media outlets. Publication or broadcast of “anything which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organs of the state,” as well as any broadcasts deemed to be “false or baseless” can bring jail terms of up to three years, fines of up to 10 million rupees (US$165,000), and license cancellation. The Blasphemy law can bring fines and prison sentences of up to three years, while defiling the Quran requires imprisonment for life, and defaming Muhammad requires a death sentence.
While some journalists practice self-censorship, a wide range of privately owned daily and weekly newspapers and magazines provide diverse and critical coverage of national affairs. The government controls the Pakistan Television (PTV) and Radio Pakistan, the only free-to-air broadcast outlets with a national reach, and predictably coverage supports official viewpoints. Private radio stations operate in some major cities, but are prohibited from broadcasting news programming. At least 25 private all-news cable and satellite television channels—such as Geo, ARY, Aaj, and Dawn, some of which broadcast from outside the country—provide domestic news coverage, commentary, and call-in talk shows. International television and radio broadcasts are usually available, with the important exception of a complete blockade of Indian television news channels.
Authorities sometimes exert control over media content through unofficial “guidance” to newspaper editors on placement of stories or topics than may be covered. It is not unheard of to pay for favorable press coverage, a practice that is exacerbated by the low salary levels of many journalists.
The government continues to restrict and censor some published material. Foreign books need to pass government censors before being reprinted. Books and magazines can be imported freely, but are subject to censorship for objectionable sexual or religious content. Obscene literature, a category the government defines broadly, is subject to seizure. Showing Indian films in Pakistan was banned starting with the 1965 war between the two countries until 2008 when the ban was partially lifted.
The press is much more restricted in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where independent radio is allowed only with permission from the government and no newspapers are published, and in Azad Kashmir, where publications need special permission from the regional government to operate and pro-independence publications are generally prohibited. In Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province reporters are caught between the Balochi nationalists and the government.
On 22 April 2007 PEMRA threatened the private television channel AaJ TV with closure for airing news, talk shows, and other programs that discussed the then current judicial crisis. PEMRA warned all private TV channels not to air programs casting aspersions on the judiciary or on the “integrity of the armed forces of Pakistan”, as well as content which would encourage and incite violence, contained anything against the maintenance of law and order, or which promoted anti-national or anti-state attitudes.
During March 2009 demonstrations demanding the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, authorities temporarily shut down the cable service of Geo TV and Aaj TV in cities around the country.
In October 2009 four television news channels were blocked for several hours in the wake of a terrorist attack on the army headquarters in October 2009.
In 2009 conditions for reporters covering the ongoing conflict in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) were particularly difficult, as correspondents were detained, threatened, expelled, or otherwise prevented from working, either by the Taliban and local tribal groups or by the army and intelligence services. Following the takeover of the Swat Valley by Islamic militants, cable television broadcasting was banned. During two major military offensives during the year—against Taliban-affiliated militants in the Swat Valley in April and the South Waziristan tribal area in October—reporters faced bans on access, pressure to report favorably on the offensives, and dozens of local journalists were forced to flee the area.
In August 2009, the Daily Asaap, Balochistan’s widely circulated Urdu-language newspaper, suspended publication, citing harassment from the security forces. Two other newspapers in Balochistan, Daily Balochistan Express and Daily Azadi, also reported harassment by security forces.
In October 2009, PEMRA directed 15 FM radio stations to stop carrying British Broadcasting Corporation programs for "violation of the terms and conditions of their license".
During 2010 journalists were killed and subjected to physical attack, harassment, intimidation, and other forms of pressure, including:
- On July 7, the Taliban threw a grenade at the home of Din News television reporter Imran Khan in Bajaur, FATA, injuring eight members of his family. He and his sister had been hospitalized earlier for injuries sustained in a kidnapping attempt.
- On July 22, Sarfraz Wistro, the chief reporter of the Daily Ibrat newspaper, was attacked and beaten unconscious by five men near his home in Hyderabad, Sindh.
- On September 4, Umar Cheema—the senior member of the investigation cell of a leading media group, The News—was abducted and taken to an unknown location, where he was blindfolded and beaten, had his hair shaved off his head, and was hung upside down and tortured. His abductors threatened more torture if "he didn't mend his ways" and told him the editor of investigations, Ansar Abbassi, would be next. He was dropped outside of Islamabad six hours later. Cheema went public with the abuse, and The News covered his abduction in detail in print, as did television channels. Police filed a case immediately against the accused, the government formed a joint investigation team to probe the incident, and the Lahore High Court took notice of the case. As of year's end, and after nearly four months of investigation, the team had not issued any conclusive findings.
- On September 14, journalist Misri Khan was killed in Hangu District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, by militants from the TTP, who claimed that "he twisted facts whenever we gave him any reports" and "leaned towards the army."
- On September 16, journalist Mujeebur Rehman Saddiqui, a Daily Pakistan correspondent, was killed by gunmen in Dargai, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
- On November 18, the body of journalist Lala Hameed Baloch, who had been kidnapped in late October, was found along with the body of a second journalist, Hameed Ismail, with gunshot wounds outside of Turbat, Balochistan Province. Baloch's family, local journalists, and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists believed that he was seized by security officials and targeted for his political activism.
The OpenNet Initiative listed Internet filtering in Pakistan as substantial in the social and conflict/security areas, as selective in the Internet tools area, and as suspected in the political area in December 2010.
In late 2010 Pakistanis enjoyed generally unimpeded access to most sexual, political, social, and religious content on the Internet. Although the Pakistani government does not employ a sophisticated blocking system, a limitation which has led to collateral blocks on entire domains such as Blogspot.com and YouTube.com, it continues to block websites containing content it considers to be blasphemous, anti-Islamic, or threatening to internal security. Pakistan has blocked access to websites critical of the government or the military.
Short Message Service
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority required telecoms to filter Short Message Service (text messaging) for more than 1,000 offensive keywords from 21 November 2011. An unconfirmed list was leaked online and some of the innocuous keywords on the list was subjected to ridicule by Pakistanis.
- "Press Freedom Index 2010", Reporters Without Borders, 20 October 2010
- "Freedom of the Press 2011" (PDF). Freedom House. 21 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-17.
- Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 as Amended in 2007, 19 July 2007
- "Country report: Pakistan (2010)", Freedom of the Press 2010, Freedom House, 27 April 2010
- "Section 295-C", Pakistan Criminal Code, 12 October 1986
- "Section 2(a): Freedom of Speech and Press", 2010 Human Rights Report: Pakistan, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 April 2011
- "The India-Pakistan Thaw Continues", Simon Robinson, Time, 10 March 2008
- "Pemra serves notice on TV channel", Sher Baz Khan, Dawn, 23 April 2007
- "Long March – 13 March 2009", PK Politics archive, 13 March 2009
- "Transmission of four news channels blocked during Taliban attack in Rawalpindi", International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), 13 October 2009
- "Section 2(a) Freedom of Speech and Press", 2009 Human Rights Report: Pakistan, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 11 March 2010
- "FM stations stop airing BBC bulletins", Pakistan Journalism, 29 October 2009
- "ONI Country Profile: Pakistan", OpenNet Initiative, 26 December 2010
- "Pakistan's clean text drive". The Guardian. 17 November 2011.
- "Pakistan telecoms authority to block 'obscene' texts". BBC News. 17 November 2011.
- Abbas, Nosheen (18 November 2011). "Pakistani derision at 'obscene text' ban". BBC News.
- World Press Freedom Day 2011 honoring Pakistani journalists who were killed between May 2010 - May 2011 YouTube
- "Censorship in Pakistani Urdu Textbooks", Ajmal Kamal, The Annual of Urdu Studies, Vol.10 (1995), pp. 125–133, Center for South Asia, University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Karachi Union of Journalists, website