Pakistan said today it was looking at summoning the BBC to demand an explanation over a documentary about the Taliban that has left the BBC World News channel blocked nationwide. Cable operators pulled the channel late Tuesday amid anger over NATO air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The move raises concerns about censorship in the conservative Muslim country of 167 million, where Facebook was briefly banned in 2010, just days after the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority sought to ban “obscene” text messages.
The Cable Operators Association of Pakistan, confirmed that it had pulled BBC World News from air and said other Western news channels had been ordered “not to indulge in anti-Pakistan propaganda”. The row relates to a two-part BBC documentary, “Secret Pakistan”, which questions Pakistan’s commitment to tackling Taliban militancy.
The BBC said it was deeply concerned by the move, and called for its channel to be speedily reinstated. “We condemn any action that threatens our editorial independence and prevents audiences from accessing our impartial international news service,” a BBC spokesperson said.
“Definitely, since an issue has been highlighted, the authorities will review the contents of the broadcast and their programmes,” said Pakistan’s media regulator, PEMRA. “The authorities can summon BBC representatives and seek an explanation from them,” PEMRA spokesman Tahir Izhar told AFP.
Jabbar Ahmed Senior, president of the cable operators association said “no patriot” could tolerate the documentary and adding: “We are also upset about NATO killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. We have not received a single call from any where in the country criticising our decision, no one has demanded reopening of the BBC channel. This nation unites when it is a national issue,” he told AFP. “If they apologise to the Pakistan government and the army, and if their apology is accepted only then can we lift the ban,” he added.
Pakistan has aroused increasing criticism overseas and from human rights campaigners within the country over censorship. The row over the BBC saw people post links to the documentary on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. “It is clear violation of our basic right to information. I condemn it,” said Shujauddin Qureshi, a human rights activist. Saad Haroon wrote on Twitter, “They have taken BBC off the air in Pakistan, great, now we will be the LAST to know when they bomb us.”