Concern for safety of BBC staff in Pakistan

BBC journalists are among those under threat of detention in Pakistan since emergency law was enforced over the weekend, according to the head of BBC’s Urdu service.

Mohammed Hanif told Press Gazette: ‘I have been told that they have compiled a list of journalists they are planning to arrest. So there’s constant fear and apprehension and we have to keep track of our reporters and where they are.”

Under President Musharraf’s emergency rule, Pakistan’s booming media industry has been heavily curtailed, with television channels and radio stations shut down. International channels such as BBC World and CNN are also blocked.

Hanif said the BBC’s partner FM radio stations had been shut down, with one station’s transmitter moved. Last Monday, government forces raided and sealed the printing presses of Pakistan’s largest newspaper group, Jang.

Other international news organisations have yet to report major problems, but Hanif said the mood towards the foreign media had hardened within government circles.

He said: ‘One would have thought they would be careful with the international press but they haven’t bothered with these niceties.

‘It is completely different from before. Media always had to struggle in Pakistan and there was always pressure from the government, intelligence agencies and militia. But we haven’t faced anything like this since the Seventies.”

BBC coverage within Pakistan is now broadcast on short wave and medium wave radio and the corporation is providing additional programming on the most accessible medium for most of the country.

Other networks in Pakistan reiterated that the country had consistently been challenging to operate in, with visas difficult to obtain, but that they would continue to provide coverage as long as staff were safe.

Sean Maguire, general and political news editor at Reuters, said: ‘We are concerned for the safety of our text reporters and visual teams on the streets and have urged them to be extra cautious when attending demonstrations.

‘But largely our operations have been unaffected and we continue to report the Pakistan story successfully and competitively.”

A spokeswoman for CNN said of its coverage: ‘We do have a correspondent in there once we have the visa. Security is an issue, of vital importance in a story like this, and we wouldn’t be sending someone in unless we had the appropriate security for the correspondent and for our permanent staff in Islamabad.”

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