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Media watchdog censures Pakistan curbs on TV broadcasters

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Maryam Nawaz (L), daughter of jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, speaks as Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif looks on during a press conference in Lahore on July 6, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

A global media watchdog has strongly denounced Pakistani authorities over the removal of three television channels from the country's airwaves amid mounting pressure on media outlets in the Asian nation.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in a recent statement, described the outage as an act of "brazen censorship" and "indicative of disturbing dictatorial tendencies."

"Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to learn that three Pakistani TV news channels have been suspended from cable networks at the behest of the authorities in reprisal for broadcasting an opposition leader's news conference," RSF said late Tuesday.

In recent days, AbbTakk TV, 24 News, and Capital TV all had their broadcasts cut, after screening a press conference with opposition leader Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif -- who is currently behind bars for corruption.

Elsewhere in the statement, the watchdog went on to pin the removal of the channels on the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, saying "the all-powerful broadcast media regulator" takes its lead from the country's "military establishment."

Pakistani authorities say the channels were unavailable due to "technical issues." A senior official said the broadcasters had violated Pakistan's "code of conduct" and been warned against airing the press conference with Maryam.

The developments come after Maryam during a press briefing earlier this month released a video that showed a senior judge confessing he had been blackmailed into convicting the former premier.

In the video, the judge was seen admitting he was under tremendous pressure to convict Sharif despite the fact there was no material evidence against him.

Her press conference was aired live on almost all private TV channels of the country and generated a debate over freedom of judiciary.

Pakistani English-language daily Dawn says Prime Minister Imran Khan's administration has vowed to block any media coverage and interviews of politicians "who are convicts and under trial."

Just last week, Pakistan's largest private broadcaster Geo News TV abruptly took an interview with former president Asif Ali Zardari off air shortly after it began.

In recent years, there have been accusations of the country's powerful military putting pressure on the media to stop coverage critical of its policies -- allegations it denies.

Pakistan ranks among the world's dangerous countries for media workers and reporters have frequently been detained, beaten and even killed for being critical of the government or powerful military.

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