Pakistani media battles government

Islamabad :A pair of shoes hurled at Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari during his Britain visit threatens to pit the Pakistani media against the government with TV channels charging the ruling elite with victimising them for airing the incident.

Pakistan’s leading TV channels, GEO and ARY, have accused the government of using pressure tactics to put their broadcast off air.

A pair of shoes were hurled at Zardari during a meeting in Birmingham Aug 7. The channels are accusing the government of picking on them for airing the news.

Geo has alleged Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s involvement in the episode as he is a close Zardari aide.

Addressing a press conference Thursday, Taseer, however, denied the accusations of the TV channels against the government and instead said that the administrators of these channels had some vested interests.

The incident of shoes being thrown at Zardari was first reported by Dunya TV from Birmingham and was quickly picked up by other channels. Several eye witnesses later confirmed the incident while talking to media.

The government spokesman first remained in denial and then offered lame excuses in justification of the incident.

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira initially said that nothing of this sort had happened.

President’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar went on to say that he was sitting in the front row and something may have happened in the rear of the hall about which he had no knowledge.

Pakistani TV channels, on the other hand, had a field day with this breaking news.

GEO TV, the flagship channel of Jang media group that has an estranged relationship with the Zardari-led government for quite a while now, was scathing in its criticism of the president and termed it another proof of his declining popularity.

ARY’s president Shahid Masood is a leading anchor and a fierce critic of the president. He has, at one time, served as the state-run Pakistan Television’s managing director in the first phase of Zardari’s government before resigning following an apparent power struggle with the minister incharge.

President Zardari has lately dismissed all criticism of the private news channels and referred to the anchors as “political actors”.

Both Geo and ARY have accused the government of arm-twisting the cable operators to suspend their transmission.

Geo approached the Lahore High Court and the Sindh High Court seeking resumption of their transmission while a similar petition has also been lodged by ARY.

Journalists across the country have also staged demonstrations to advocate the resumption of transmission and termed the government action as being against the freedom of expression.

The current situation is similar to the Nov 3, 2007 imposition of emergency by then president General Pervez Musharraf which led to banning of some private channels’ transmission.

State Minister for Information, Samsam Ali Bokhari, stressed that the channels have been put off air because of an internal dispute between two powerful groups of cable operators. He denied that the government had anything to do with it.

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