Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Fine Orwellian Balance In Pakistan: Musharraf Rescinds New Media Regulations, But New Media-Control Policy Remains In Force!

As Carlotta Gall of the New York Times reports, Pakistani General-turned-President Pervez Musharraf's attempt to stifle live media coverage of current political events has run into a major snag, so he's rescinded the order -- but the policy established by that order appears to remain in effect!

Musharraf Rescinds Media Regulations After Public Outcry
Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has formally withdrawn his decree that imposed new regulations on the news media, government officials said over the weekend. The president made his decision after he met with industry leaders, and after journalists and opposition parties strongly protested the decree, officials said.

The independent media channels agreed to prepare a code of conduct to be incorporated into government media regulations, the state news organization reported.
So they're going to impose media censorship using regulations drafted by the media themselves? How crafty!!
The formal withdrawal came after Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, and his information minister, Muhammad Ali Durrani, said last week that the ordinance had been suspended pending discussions.

Commercial television channels, whose numbers have grown during General Musharraf’s rule, have been pressured in recent weeks to stop live coverage of events and live political talk shows, and have had their cable transmissions blocked.
It's clear what's been happening. The government has been trying to keep the people ignorant of what's going on in their country! That doesn't sound just a little bit familiar, does it?
Independent television channels have closely followed the progression of the former chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, as he has toured the country in the weeks after he was dismissed by General Musharraf.

Since his dismissal in March, Justice Chaudhry has drawn huge crowds on his stops to visit provincial courts and lawyers’ associations, and opposition parties have organized protest rallies to support him. At the rallies, criticism of General Musharraf and the military has been aired along with demands for change and a return to civilian rule.
We also have been following those events as best we can, here on the nearly frozen blog.
The presidential decree, which went into immediate effect when it was issued on June 3, amended media regulations to give the government regulating body broad powers to seize broadcasting equipment, seal premises and suspend licenses on impromptu orders. The regulating body was instructed to draft regulations at its own discretion, and a media committee that was to consider complaints and other contended issues was replaced with a board of government officials.
There you go: replace every committee with a board of government officials and you've got it made in the shade! But otherwise not!!
The decree was met with enormous disapproval by parliamentary allies, as well as by opposition parties and lawyers supporting the countrywide movement to reinstate Justice Chaudhry. Legislators were incensed that the decree was signed into law during a three-week recess of Parliament, thus avoiding any debate.
Slick, no? Doing the dirty work while Parliament is on recess! That doesn't ring any bells with my American readers, does it?
Lawmakers had just spent five months working on amending the media law, and they finally passed it earlier this spring.
... only to have it amended by royal edict! It's no wonder that so many Pakistanis have been in the streets, clamoring for the return of democratic rule after nearly a decade under the boot of the general who became president.

And once again you have to read all the way to the end of the article to find the kicker:
It remains unclear whether the government intends to retain the new restrictions when it resubmits the ordinance. The orders banning live coverage and live talk shows appear to still be in force.
As George Orwell spins ever more rapidly, let us rejoice in the thought that irony is definitely not dead.