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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

BBC is blocked in Pakistan

Pakistan said Wednesday 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.

Khalid Arain, chairman of the Cable Operators Association of Pakistan, confirmed that BBC World News was off-air nationwide and that 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.

Pakistan's media regulator, PEMRA, said: "Definitely, since an issue has been highlighted, the authorities will review the contents of the broadcast and their programmes."

"The authorities can summon BBC representatives and seek an explanation from them," PEMRA spokesman Tahir Izhar told AFP.

Arain said Pakistan was not legally bound to show any foreign channels and was also monitoring Britain's Sky News for "any objectionable content."

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."

Last week, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority was forced to row back from banning text messages containing any of nearly 1,700 "obscene" words, many of which were seemingly innocuous, following outrage from users and campaigners.

Pakistan blocked Facebook for nearly two weeks in May 2010 in a storm of controversy.


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