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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
07ISLAMABAD2574
2007-06-08 13:13:00
SECRET
Embassy Islamabad
Cable title:  

FEDERAL RAILWAYS MINISTER DEFENDS MEDIA CRACKDOWN

Tags:   PK  PREL  PTER 
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						S E C R E T ISLAMABAD 002574 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/08/2017
TAGS: PREL, PTER, PK
SUBJECT: FEDERAL RAILWAYS MINISTER DEFENDS MEDIA CRACKDOWN

REF: A. ISLAMABAD 2494

B. STATE 77589

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

1. (C) On June 5, PolOff met with Federal Minister of
Railways (and unofficial Pakistan Muslim League spokesman)
Sheikh Rashid Ahmed to discuss the recent curtailment of
media freedom and the current political situation. Ahmed said
that press limitations were necessary to ensure national
security and to bolster the army's morale during this time of
crisis.

2. (C) According to Ahmed, the electronic media was getting
"out of hand" and exaggerating the Chief Justice case. Such
incitement of the public was leading to unrest and violence,
he said. Ahmed stressed that unlike print media, whose
commentary on current events was more controlled, TV news was
sensationalized and biased. He asserted that no one watches
the government-run PTV news, and opposition party journalists
staff all the independent TV channels. Ahmed emphasized that
the purpose of media is to make an informed citizenry, not to
promote anti-government sentiments. With live broadcasts,
anyone can say anything with no concern as to the effects.
Mullahs can incite people to violence or people can denigrate
the soldiers sacrificing their lives on Pakistan's borders.

3. (C) Ahmed blamed the "black coats and black cameras"
(lawyers and media) for overblowing the Chief Justice issue.
In his opinion, the court should adjudicate the case and both
parties should abide by the decision. He assured PolOff that
new media limitations will make political parties lose
interest in the political "show", and the current
restrictions will be lifted after the Chief Justice issue is
resolved.

4. (C) The Minister also shared his views on the upcoming
elections and stated that a deal with the ruling Pakistan
Muslim League was essential for the Pakistan People's Party.
"Benazir needs the army; she can not survive without it," he
said. Ahmed stressed that Musharraf's remaining in uniform
was a sacrifice for the good of the country. (Note: Ahmed's
constituency in Rawalpindi includes a military cantonment and
many army residences. End note.) He believed that Musharraf
was the only person who could lead Pakistan into the future
and ensure that the extremists do not gain ground.

5. (S) On June 8, PolOff delivered reftel points to Minister
Ahmed. He acknowledged the need for press freedom and
promised to pass the points to the highest levels of his
government. Ahmed commented that with the June 7 suspension
of Musharraf's proposed amendments to the PEMRA ordinance,
the electronic media had nothing left to fear. He asserted,
however, that it was unacceptable for the print media to
spread lies about President Musharraf.

6. (C) Comment. The tall, cigar-chewing Sheikh Rashid Ahmed
is a well-known political personality who has served as
Information Minister several times in the past. His recent
public statements supporting the press crackdown on various
media outlets have made him the government's de facto
spokesperson on the issue. Many believe this is intentional
because he is more forceful than Information Minister
Mohammed Ali Durrani in his defense of government actions.
There are continuing rumors that he may replace Durrani as
the Information Minister. End comment.

BODDE