ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – President Gen. Pervez Musharraf tightened the regulation of Pakistan's media Monday, the latest move against dissent in a growing political crisis over his suspension of the chief justice.
Under an emergency ordinance that takes effective immediately, Musharraf made a raft of amendments to regulations governing the electronic media, including private television channels that the general has accused of anti-government bias.
The ordinance says authorities can seal the premises of broadcasters or suspend distributors breaking the law, and raises possible fines for violations from 1 million rupees ($16,665) to 10 million rupees ($166,650).
Mohammed Salim, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority spokesman, was unable to provide a copy of the legislation being amended to specifically determine what other changes had been made. A version posted on the authority's Web site appeared to be out of date.
Officials at the Information Ministry could not be reached immediately for comment.
Musharraf has fostered unprecedented media freedom since he seized power in a 1999 coup.
However, he has grown exasperated with extensive coverage of the crisis triggered by his March 9 ouster of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.
Government officials have accused the TV channels of sensationalizing the crisis in talk shows and with live coverage of rallies around the country attended by Chaudhry.
Rallies for the judge, who denies government charges of misconduct, have drawn large crowds of lawyers and opposition activists and growing calls for Musharraf to step down or at least give up his dual role as army chief before he seeks another five-year term later this year.
The Media Regulatory Authority, which supervises radio and TV stations, issued letters to TV channels Saturday, urging them not to air programs that "encourage" violence, or promote an "anti-state attitude."
The channels were also asked not to air programs that contain "aspersions against the judiciary and the integrity of the armed forces of Pakistan" or malign or slander anyone in public life, said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Broadcasters say verbal messages they received privately were even more blunt: Stop live coverage of Chaudhry rallies.
TV stations scaled back coverage during a Saturday rally in Abbotabad, north of the capital, which drew tens of thousands of supporters.