BBC World Service Canceled in Pakistan Over Documentary Controversy

Posted November 30th, 2011 at 6:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Pakistani cable operators have canceled BBC World Service programming amid controversy over a documentary described as “anti-Pakistan” propaganda.

Since Tuesday night, subscribers to the TV channel have had nothing to look at but a still shot of a satellite with a big red “X” drawn over it.

The cable operators said the move is in response to a documentary called “Secret Pakistan,” which was broadcast several weeks ago. The two-part documentary, commissioned by the BBC from an independent third party production company, builds a case that the Pakistani military deliberately aided the Taliban and al-Qaida, even as it assured the United States and the West that it was fighting the militants.

After the first part aired, military officials derided the series as “baseless, concocted, and malicious.” Pakistan's non-governmental Cable Association said it had singled out the BBC as a warning to other foreign broadcasters. It said that any other foreign entity that wishes to put Pakistan on trial may well find itself boycotted by cable TV operators as well.

The BBC has condemned any action that, in its words, “threatens our editorial independence and prevents audiences from accessing our impartial international news service.” It urged that the channel be reinstated as soon as possible.

Pakistani officials said they would take a closer look at the documentary to see if the BBC violated any of the country's media laws.

The move raises concerns about censorship in the Muslim country. Last year, Pakistani authorities briefly banned Facebook, while earlier in November, the country's Telecommunications Authority sought to block more than 1,600 words and phrases — both in English and in Urdu — from text messages sent by customers.

The authority said the move was designed “to protect the interests of consumers.” But a free speech advocacy group said it would sue the government over the list, which has been widely mocked by ordinary Pakistanis on social media.