Pakistan’s TV, Facebook and cellphone Wars

The last few months have been tumultous for for TV, websites and cellphones in Pakistan.

First, is Hamid Mir Taliban a supporter or not?

The Guardian’s Declan Walsh and Pakistan media reports were reporting last week with the news that Hamid Mir, host of Geo TV’spopular show Capital Talk, was taped phone telling the kidnappers of Khalid Khwaja, a former intelligence officer, to continue holding and interrogating him.

Although Mir told the Guardian “They took my voice, sampled it and manufactured this conspiracy against me”, Pakistani journalists said it sounded real and urged a fuller investigation.

Ayesha Siddiqa (of the excellent account of the Pakistan Army’s dominance of Pakistan industry Military Inc) has a good overview and background to the story here.

Its particularly interesting because Geo TV has been one of Pakistan’s success stories with the most popular, and professional news gathering. It produced an anti-extremism film Khuda Ka Liye, and recently launched one of the most high profile Pakistan – India dialogue projects – Amaan Ki Aasha. Geo is also  regularly used by various foreign governments to get their message to the people of Pakistan. Geo also re-broadcasts Voice of America programmes.

Will the truth of charges against Mir come out? Will they, should they, influence decisions to use Geo as a tool to communicate with the people of Pakistan?

Secondly, both Facebook and Youtube were banned in Pakistan by the government seeking to prevent access to blasphemous images of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Facebook was banned (and then unbanned) for hosting the Facebook group calling for drawings of Muhammad (pbuh). A day later Youtube was banned for containing depictions of Muhammad (pbuh). People also reported restrictions on Flickr, Wikipedia and Blackberry use.

Finally, Assemblies Khyber Pakhtunkwa (nee North Western Frontier Province) and the Punjab have called for a ban on cellphones contracts that allow free SMS and late night calls in order to ‘protect the younger generation from moral degradation’ (Ive argued elsewhere that these packages do support a cellphone fuelled sexual revolution in a country where communication between genders is highly regulated). Although these calls are unlikely to enter law, they clearly reflect high levels of concern.

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