- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — President Pervez Musharraf tightened controls on Pakistan’s television news yesterday, the latest move against dissent in a growing political crisis over his suspension of the chief justice.

Under an emergency ordinance that takes effective immediately, Gen. Musharraf made several amendments to regulations governing the electronic media, including for private television channels that the general has accused of being biased against the government.

The ordinance says authorities can seal the premises of broadcasters or distributors breaking the law and raises possible fines for violations from $16,665 to $166,650.

The Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which supervises radio and TV stations, can also suspend the license of an offender.

Mohsin Raza, director of news for the ARY One World channel, said suspension was a serious threat because it would disrupt vital advertising revenue.

“This will let the budding electronic media starve, and thousands of people’s jobs will be at risk,” Mr. Raza told the Associated Press. “This is the worst tool the government is preparing.”

Gen. Musharraf had fostered unprecedented media freedom since he seized power in a 1999 coup. However, he has grown exasperated with extensive coverage of the crisis triggered by his March 9 ouster of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

The turnaround has been accompanied by a spate of threats against and beatings of prominent journalists, although authorities have denied responsibility.

Government officials have accused TV stations of sensationalizing the crisis on talk shows and with live coverage of rallies across the country attended by Chief Justice Chaudhry.

The rallies have drawn large crowds of lawyers and opposition activists calling for Gen. Musharraf to step down or at least give up his role as army chief before he seeks another five-year term as president later this year.

PEMRA spokesman Mohammed Salim said he was unable to provide a copy of the legislation being amended so journalists can determine what other changes had been made. A version posted on the authority’s Web site appeared out of date.

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