Pakistan's cable operators have pulled the plug on the BBC World news TV channel, in a move it hopes will be a warning to other foreign broadcasters. Amid anger over a BBC documentary the cable companies describe as "anti-Pakistan" propaganda, the British broadcaster may now face government punitive action as well.
Pakistani cable subscribers who watch the BBC World news TV channel have had nothing to look at since Tuesday night but a graphic still shot of a satellite with a red "X" drawn over it. Accompanying text says "Service is currently not available, sorry for the inconvenience."
In fact, it was Pakistani cable operators who caused the inconvenience, when they deliberately cut the BBC World News shortly before midnight local time.
The public justification for the move was said to be a response to a documentary the British channel broadcast several weeks earlier, called "Secret Pakistan."
A soundbite in the documentary says, "This series tells the hidden story of how, for a decade, Pakistan deceived America and the West - and was then found out."
The two-part documentary, which the BBC commissioned from an independent third-party production company, builds a case that Pakistan's military deliberately aided the Taliban and al-Qaida - even as it assured Washington and NATO that it was an ally in the fight against the militants.
After the first half of the series aired, a Pakistani military spokesman derided the series as "baseless, concocted, and malicious." Pakistan's Cable Association, which is a nongovernmental industry organization, says it is singling out the BBC as a warning to all foreign broadcasters.
Khalid Arian, a spokesman for the association, said any other foreign broadcaster who wishes to put Pakistan on trial may well find itself boycotted by cable TV operators as well.
The BBC issued a statement condemning any action that, "threatens our editorial independence and prevents audiences from accessing our impartial international news service." It urges that the channel be reinstated in Pakistan as soon as possible.
Fallout for BBC
Cable operators are not legally bound to broadcast foreign channels within Pakistan, leaving the BBC with relatively few channels of recourse for the moment.
Officials here now also say they are taking a closer look at the "Secret Pakistan" program to see if the BBC violated any of the country's media laws. Abdul Jabbar is a spokesman for PEMRA - the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
He said the cable operators' actions are to be seen as an expression of the public's anger against the BBC. After carefully studying the documentary, he said PEMRA will come up with its own opinions - and will not hesitate to take action against any broadcaster that provokes violent sentiments among Pakistanis.
The move raises concerns about censorship in the Muslim country, where Facebook was briefly banned last year and the country's Telecommunications Authority sought to block text messages containing prohibited words earlier this month.
*Originally we reported that Pakistan has dropped the BBC World Service. VOA regrets the error *