Why Pakistan pulled the BBC from airwaves

Pakistan cable news operators pulled the BBC off the airwaves after deeming a program called 'Secret Pakistan' one sided. The move reflects deepening public hostility toward the West.

By , Correspondent

Pakistan’s cable news operators have taken BBC World News off the air and are “reviewing” the broadcast of other channels for “anti-Pakistan” content in the wake of the NATO cross-border attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last week.

The current row centers on a BBC documentary called “Secret Pakistan,” which covers the alleged double-dealing of Pakistan’s military with Taliban militants. The All Pakistan Cable Operators Association determined that between the show's timing and content it was anti-Pakistan propaganda that could offend viewers by playing down Pakistan's sacrifices against militants, so it pulled the channel from their cable networks. 

While an official in the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority told the Monitor that the ban has was undertaken by private cable operators without official sanction, the move reflects deepening public hostility toward the West and raises concerns about censorship amid an overall opening up of media, particularly broadcast. 

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“We want to send them [the West] a strong message to stop this [propaganda]. If they don’t stop this, then it is our right to stop them,” the organization's chairman, Khalid Arain, told local newspaper the Express Tribune.

He added that other channels like Britain’s Sky News would also be under review. At time of filing, US cable channel Fox News was the only foreign news channel available on cable news.

Over the past decade the opening up of media has arguably been the root of the democratic reforms the country has seen. While this ban is on the BBC, it could have a chilling effect on that domestic development.

Public opinion

Raza Rumi, a political and cultural commentator, says “Unfortunately, the uncalled for NATO attack has mobilized public opinion. [But] instead of constructing an alternative discourse, which highlight our concerns and national interest, we are being ‘reactive’ and the ban on BBC by cable operators is one such example.”

According to Mr. Rumi, the government could have stepped in to prevent the ban. Private ownership in Pakistani media exploded under the tenure of former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the early 2000s, but some recent examples of censorship have free-speech advocates worried.

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Telecommunication Authority issued directives to mobile phone operators to ban a list of some 1,500 words (the ban has not yet been enforced), and last year some Facebook and YouTube were blocked over the "Draw Muhammad" cartoon competition.

NATO airstrike aftermath

The BBC ban, expected by observers to be temporary, comes at a time of media uproar over the NATO strike last Saturday that left 24 soldiers dead and prompted Pakistan to pull out of the Bonn-conference on Afghanistan peace talks next week.

On Wednesday, Pakistani media outlets published the most detailed accounts yet of Pakistan’s Army’s version of events, suggesting the attack was not just unprovoked, but deliberate.

According to Maj.Gen. Ishfaq Nadeem, the director general of military operations who briefed the Pakistani press on Tuesday, NATO jets approached their target just after midnight on Saturday night, opened fire, and returned 45 minutes later, despite knowing the exact location of the Pakistani posts. Prior to the first attack, NATO forces had received fire at a post some nine miles away from the incident.

According to an analyst who was present at the briefing, the Pakistani brigade had one anti-aircraft gun whose gunner was killed early on. When the brigade’s commanding officer went to replace him at his post, he too was “obliterated.”

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