ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The government's intolerance of public dissent is not easing ahead of the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections, with television executives being warned they could be imprisoned and fined for giving critics of President Pervez Musharraf a live forum.
Pakistan's regulators ordered all satellite television channels "to stop airing such live programs, talk shows and contents immediately," according to a copy of a letter Tuesday obtained by the Associated Press.
In the letter, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said some channels still were "airing live coverage and taking live telephone calls from [the] public, which contain baseless propaganda against Pakistan and incite people to violence."
The regulators warned that the channels could be taken off the air and that those responsible - the network's license-holder or its representative - could face up to three years in prison and fines of up to $170,000.
Journalists yesterday accused the state media regulator of trying to restrict their coverage of the elections. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists called it "an attempt to silence the free media."
Information Minister Nisar Memon denied any censorship, saying the independent channels must show they are responsible by not stirring up political tensions.
Still, networks are likely to comply with the threat and avoid live coverage of fiery speeches by opposition leaders such as Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, former prime ministers who returned in recent months from exile.
The media regulator is telling networks to install time-delay equipment to prevent violations of its orders.