ID: 111138    6/6/2007 14:40    07ISLAMABAD2526    Embassy Islamabad    CONFIDENTIAL    07ISLAMABAD2494    "VZCZCXRO7283 OO RUEHDBU RUEHLH RUEHPW DE RUEHIL #2526/01 1571440 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 061440Z JUN 07 FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9663 INFO RUEHTA/AMEMBASSY ASTANA PRIORITY 0181 RUEHEK/AMEMBASSY BISHKEK PRIORITY 4227 RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO PRIORITY 1334 RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 2101 RUEHDBU/AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE PRIORITY RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 7163 RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 8393 RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 5751 RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 1083 RUEHNT/AMEMBASSY TASHKENT PRIORITY 3258 RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI PRIORITY 6309 RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE PRIORITY 2531 RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR PRIORITY 0884 RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 2438 RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY"    "C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ISLAMABAD 002526

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/06/2017 TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, PREL, PK SUBJECT: WHAT HAPPENED TO PRESS FREEDOM IN PAKISTAN?

REF: A. ISLAMABAD 2494

B. STATE 77589 C. ISLAMABAD 1354

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Peter Bodde for reasons 1.4(b), (d)

1. (C) On March 24, President Musharraf told Ambassador  Crocker that Musharraf intended to fire the head of the  Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Agency (PEMRA), whose  heavy handed interventions during the early stages of the  Chief Justice controversy had been "unhelpful and wrong" (ref  C).  Indeed, after PEMRA interfered with GEO television  broadcasts in early March, Minister of Information Durrani  apologized, and after the police stormed the Islamabad  offices of GEO television and broke expensive equipment,  Musharraf apologized.  The apologies, and subsequent  affirmations that the government was completely committed to  press freedom, were accompanied by actions indicating the  government was sincere. During the March 24 meeting,  Musharraf even stated he was planning to hire a public  relations expert to help Information Minister Durrani better  package the government's message to Paksitan's vibrant press.

2. (C) So why, if on March 24 the government supported press  freedom, on June 1 did it begin to seriously restrict those  liberties?  The hypotheses revolve around three events.

MAY 12:  THE POWER OF LIVE TELEVISION

3. (C) Live coverage of the May 12 bloodshed in Karachi,  including footage of people slowly bleeding to death while  ambulances were unable to move past overturned vehicles and  other roadblocks, shocked Pakistan.  Commentators on the  scene reported that no police could be seen on the street.

As the live reporting progressed, journalists continuously  restated rumors that the MQM city government had ordered  officers off the street or had ordered that they not carry  weapons.  The images of May 12 damaged the government, as MQM  is a coalition partner.

PROTEST RALLIES:  THE COVERAGE GOES ON ALL DAY

4. (C) Live coverage of the various Chief Justice rallies  also bothered the government.  Camera angles often made  crowds shouting anti-Musharraf slogans appear larger than  they were.  The Chief Justice's practice of taking hours and  hours to drive slowly to the site of the rallies means that  the live coverage often lasts the entirety of a Saturday.

Some government officials believe that certain reporters are  purposefully manipulating coverage of the rallies to build  the morale of the opposition parties.

CRITICIZING THE ARMY:  IT'S JUST NOT DONE HERE

5. (C) The last straw, in terms of rallies, appears to have  been a Saturday, May 26 gathering when several speakers  uncharacteristically offered execeptionally harsh comments  about the army and about Musharraf's failure to remove his  uniform.  Army officials are not used to being criticised,  especially on live television.

SO WHO IS BEHIND THE CRACKDOWN?

6. (C) In short, everyone is trying to pin the blame on  someone else.  Federal Minister of Railways Sheikh Rashid  Ahmed, an unofficial government spokesman, told us June 5  that he supported the crackdown.  According to him, reports  denigrating the army affected the morale of soldiers serving  in difficult missions such as in South Waziristan.  He said  that the army was a sensitive institution that took negative  comments very personally.  (Note: President Musharraf has  often made this same point to visiting Congressional  delegations.  End note.)  Pakistan Muslim League President

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Chaudrhay Shujaat Hussain told us June 1 that the military  was being overly sensitive, and that they should realize that  people were going to use increased freedom to vent  frustrations.  According to Shujaat, the crackdown on the  media was a result of pressure from senior military officers.

Meanwhile, Embassy military colleagues report that their  contacts claim to oppose cracking down on the press.  Many  military officers say they simply want the Chief Justice  controversy to end without causing further harm to Pakistan's  reputation.

7. (C) One persistent claim -- by government officials,  opposition politicians, and journalists -- is that senior  military figures in ISI and Military Intelligence, especially  Director General for ISI Kiyani, are the strongest proponents  of the media crackdown. These same interlocutors, though, can  present no concrete reason the intelligence agencies would  choose now to try to restrict the press.  When blame is hard  to place and an easy explanation is elusive, standard  Pakistani practice is to blame the intelligence agencies.

8. (C) COMMENT:  In light of the serious attention this issue  continues to attract, we should remain constant in reminding  the government of Pakistan that their actions to restrict  press freedom can only serve to undercut their own short- and  long-term political best interests.  END COMMENT.

BODDE  "