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Two Pakistan TV channels back on air

Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: Two Pakistani television channels banned by the government after the November 3 imposition of emergency are back on air following talks between the owners of these channels and the government, minus their most popular programmes, while two others are still off.

The channels back on Thursday were Aaj TV and Dawn News. Two international channels, CNN and BBC, were also back. But two other Pakistani channels, ARY and Geo, are yet to return.

A top executive at Dawn News denied his channel had signed a new code of conduct handed down by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) following the imposition of Emergency, but said it had given an assurance to abide by a previous Pakistan Broadcasters’ Association.

He said the government had accepted the Dawn position because of its “balanced” coverage.

At Aaj, a senior hand said the channel gave a verbal undertaking to the government to observe the new PEMRA ordinance, and take “corrective measures” in its programming. The “corrective measures” include pulling two popular current affairs talk shows that have been critical of President Pervez Musharraf over the last few months.

The anchor of one of the shows said he understood the “limitations” of the Aaj owner.

Unlike the Dubai-based Geo, which appears to be holding out, all Aaj operations are based in Pakistan. After being closed down on the cable network, the channel went into financial shock as advertisers pulled out, even though its programmes continued to be shown over satellite.

The pulled talk shows could have continued had the anchors agreed to conform to the PEMRA code.

Geo appears to be still holding out, mainly because the company has been able to cushion its financial losses. Its off-shore operations mean that it can continue to air all its programmes without fear of its equipment being seized or property sealed.

The restoration of the channels did not satisfy the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ ), which held another protest on Thursday. In Islamabad, PFUJ president Huma Ali handed the memorandum to the U.N. office. Mr. Ali said the journalists would continue their agitation until the ordinances were withdrawn.

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