June 4, 2007Foreign Affairs

Musharraf gags the media

No, dictators don’t change their stripes

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Then we have empowered also—we have liberated the media and the press. If you see this press today sitting around here, and the media, previously there was only one Pakistan television. Today there are dozens of channels. All these people sitting around are the result of my democratization of Pakistan, opening the Pakistan society of the media—the print media and the electronic media, both. And they’re totally liberated. [Gen Musharraf, during President Bush’s visit to Islamabad, March 6th 2006]

There was a time when people, in Pakistan, in India and around the world really began to believe that Gen Musharraf was some sort of a liberal. That nasty business of how he treated rape victims—from Mukhtaran Mai, to Dr Shazia Khaled—should have put paid to his claims to enlightened moderation’. But many continued to point to the relative freedom of the press to give Musharraf the benefit of the increasing doubt. But even those claims ignored a simple truth: Musharraf tolerated a free press to the extent that it did not pose a credible challenge to his political survival.

That liberal facade has now come crashing down in the wake of the one of most comprehensive clampdowns on the media. First live broadcasting was banned to prevent coverage of anti-Musharraf protest rallies. Now not only have broadcast television channels been comprehensively gagged but the regulations cover literally every thing that displays moving pictures.

It also brings Internet Protocol TV, radio and mobile TV under PEMRA regulations. The definition of frequency has also been changed in the rules encompassing the frequency of electromagnetic waves measured in hertz and used for transmission. [DT]

Musharraf’s political lackeys, of course, have been already been going around declaring that those who criticise the army must be shot dead, for they are the enemies of Pakistan.

The media didn’t hurt Musharraf when it was allowed to be free. But gagging it might well prove to accelerate the unraveling of his regime. Ironic, isn’t it?

Update:Newspapers, magazines, even political cartoonists are next.

Related Links: Another tick on Sepoy’s clock; PostGlobal is hosting a discussion on this: Ahmed Rashid asserts Musharraf cannot survive the year

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