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Journalist Says Military Censored TV Interview With Former Pakistani President

FILE: Hamid Mir recoded his television show outside the Islamabad Press Club to protest a ban by military dictator Pervez Musharraf in 2007.
FILE: Hamid Mir recoded his television show outside the Islamabad Press Club to protest a ban by military dictator Pervez Musharraf in 2007.

One of Pakistan’s most prominent journalists says the country’s security establishment cut short his interview with a former president shortly after it began on an independent television channel on July 1.

“It is obvious that the establishment was involved. Only they can force a sudden takedown,” journalist Hamid Mir told Radio Mashaal on July 2. The establishment is an euphemism for Pakistan’s powerful military. Many Pakistanis use the term to avoid saying the military, which has ruled the country for decades under four army generals.

Viewers in Pakistan were watching Mir’s interview with former president and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari late on July 1 when it suddenly stopped. In June, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), a Pakistani anti-corruption agency, arrested Zardari. He is still in NAB custody but allowed to participate in sessions of the parliament, where he is a member of the National Assembly or lower house.

“We ran promotions for the interview for two days. Some of it was even run in news bulletins, and no one objected,” Mir said.

His Capital Talk is a popular nighttime talk show on Geo News, one of Pakistan’s leading news stations. Mir says no civilian authorities were involved in preventing Geo News from airing his interview, and the authorities had no reason to prevent it from reaching mass audiences.

Mohammad Tahir, a senior officer of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), says his organization was not involved in the interview being pulled.

“PEMRA had no role in it,” he told Radio Mashaal. He says his organization only evaluates programming once it is aired. “As a regulator, we do not control editorial polices,” he said. “[Television] channels are independent in their editorial policies and programming.”

It was not immediately possible to reach the Pakistani military’s media office.

But last year Asif Ghafoor, a military spokesman, rejected curbing the media. “We have never told any journalist or media owner what to say and what not to,” he told journalists. “We have always told them that Pakistan needs to unite, and we need to bring forward its strengths and success. I thank the media for their willing cooperation.”

Pakistan currently ranks 142nd out of 180 countries listed on Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index.

“The Pakistani media, which have a long tradition of being very lively, have become a priority target for the country’s ‘deep state,’ a euphemism for the constant maneuvering by the military and military intelligence to subjugate civilians,” RSF says. “This military ‘establishment,’ which opposes independent journalism, stepped up its harassment of the media significantly in the run-up to the July 2018 general elections.”

In Islamabad Mir argues that by censoring his interview, Pakistani authorities are sending out a negative message about the country.

“By preventing this interview from broadcasting, the Pakistani state has told the whole world that our media is not free,” he said.