Pak: Foreign TV channels banned from live coverage from Abbottabad

It is likely to come under criticism on grounds of curbing press freedom.

Islamabad: The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has barred all major foreign television channels from making live broadcasts from Abbottabad, five days after al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a US raid there.

The Saudi-born terrorist, who had evaded capture for a decade, was killed in a top secret operation involving a small team of US Special Forces in Abbottabad, located 50 kilometres northeast of Islamabad and 150 kilometres east of Peshawar.

The PEMRA issued a restraining order in a statement released by the Press Information Department, accusing nine channels- including the BBC and CNN- of violating Section 30 of the PEMRA Act, reflecting the Pakistan government’s unease over the coverage of perceived failures of its intelligence agencies.

The move, which is likely to come under criticism on grounds of curbing press freedom, comes amid continuing interest at home and abroad in ‘Operation Geronimo’ by US Navy commandos that killed the world’s most wanted terrorist in Abbottabad.

The PEMRA has stopped “foreign satellite TV channels from illegal uplinking of signals and live covering (of) news from Abbottabad,” the Dawn quoted the statement, as saying.

“All foreign channels have been issued notices to show cause (about their alleged illegalities) and stop illegal activity immediately,” it added.

The PEMRA named the channels as Fox News, NBC News, CNN, CNS, IBN, BBC, Al-Jazeera, Voice of America (VOA) and Sky News.

However, representatives of several foreign electronic media organisations said that their crew were still in Abbottabad, and some said that their channels- like BBC, Al Jazeera, VOA and NBC- were not airing their news live from the spot.

A VOA official said that the notice seemed to be more aimed at earning fees, and that it should have been issued at least four days ago, rather than at a time when most channels were likely to close their operations in Abbottabad.

As a policy, VOA does not have live coverage and all its programmes are forwarded to their offices through Radio Pakistan, the officials said.

Some sources in the foreign electronic media alleged that the PEMRA seemed to have taken this action in haste against “well known channels”, contending that the list contained no unfamiliar name.