Dubai deals blow to Pakistan TV

Dubai Media City bows to pressure from President Musharraf and pulls the plug on two broadcasters.

Two of Pakistan's leading private television networks, ordered off air during emergency rule, said on Saturday they had been forced to close down altogether after being ordered to halt transmissions via the United Arab Emirates.

Geo, Pakistan's biggest television network, and ARY One World, both have offices and studios in Dubai Media City, from where they broadcast news.

"We have been told by the (Dubai) Media City that our transmission will be shut down," Imran Aslam, president of Geo News, told Reuters. "This is all I can say at the moment." The channel’s web site said it was shut down “

An official at ARY confirmed getting similar orders. Both channels went off air at 1am.

Geo TV's web site (www.geo.tv) said the channel was shut down "after President Pervez Musharraf put tremendous pressure to silence a media outlet which had refused to bow down to his dictates".

"Informed sources said President Pervez Musharraf himself intervened to stop all Geo news transmissions from Dubai, after a two-week standoff in Pakistan during which all major news channels were shut down by cable operators, who are directly controlled by the Pakistani authorities," it said.

Director General of the National Media Council, Ibrahim Al Abed told emirates news agency Wam the closure of the two stations was coherent with UAE foreign policy.

“The UAE has been an advocate of international law and an active contributor to peace and stability in the region” he said, adding “in the light of the cultural sensitive state of affairs in Pakistan, the UAE can only assume its responsibility and maintain its neutrality.”
Amina Al Rustamani, executive director of Dubai Media City said “As an entity within the UAE, Dubai Media City would also observe the broadcast principals of the country's foreign policy and prevent the telecast of news and material that would undermine those principles".

Al Rustamani said both GEO and ARY were respected business partners in Dubai. “Our relationship with them has been strong and friendly. We are in discussion with them in regard to the telecast of their news components and we are confident we will resolve this matter in the best way possible to protect their interests and those of the UAE” she told Wam.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders urged Dubai to reverse the decision to shut down the channels.

"Pressure by General Musharraf, a notorious press freedom predator, on the Dubai authorities constitutes outrageous interference," the group said in a statement. "We urge the emir of Dubai, in the name of press freedom and free enterprise, to rescind this decision at once."

Local and international television channels disappeared from cable television in Pakistan amid media curbs imposed by military ruler Musharraf on November 3, which ban reporting which humiliates the presidency, military or government.

Some channels have since resumed broadcasts, but Geo has refused to agree to a new government media code, and has challenged the government's curbs in the High Court in Sindh province. The next hearing is due on November 20.

The media have flourished since Musharraf seized power in a bloodless 1999 coup, but the feisty private media that grew up during his rule have been highly critical of him since he tried to sack the chief justice in March.
Musharraf has accused some television channels of adding to the uncertainty that led him to impose emergency rule - which critics say he did only to try to hold on to power.

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