November 10, 2010

The Baloch Hal Banned

The Baloch Hal News

QUETTA/ISLAMABAD: The government of Pakistan has decided to ban Balochistan’s first online English newspaper, The Baloch Hal, on the advice of sensitive government departments, reported Dawn News.

According to the details, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), which monitors the internet operations in the country, has confirmed to have received instructions from high-ups in the government to ban the Baloch Hal, which is currently the most widely quoted newspaper about Pakistan’s gas-rich province of Balochistan.

“We deeply regret the official decision,” said Malik Siraj Akbar, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, “we have always provided equal and balanced coverage to the government and the opposition in our newspaper. The government should bring public whatever “objectionable” material it ever found in our newspaper. The ban is intended to disconnect Balochistan’s news link with the rest of the world. This is a setback to the freedom of press.”

The Baloch Hal was launched on November 20, last year and was preparing to celebrate its first launching anniversary in the next two weeks. The government had also banned another Baloch newspaper, Daily Asaap, last year and besieged the offices of Daily Azadi and Balochistan Express.

The signs of ban appeared on Saturday when readers of the newspaper complained from different Pakistani cities saying they were unable to access the newspaper.

“Every time I try to access the site, I get a message which says it has been blocked on the instructions of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA),” said Zubir Baloch, a resident of Karachi and a user of the services of World Call Group, a telecommunication Company.

The government of Balochistan had also been recently disturbed with the critical editorials of the newspaper.

” The spokesman of the chief minister of Balochistan accused us of dictating the government but we still published his point of view because we believe in the freedom of the press,” said Nazia Baloch, Op-Ed editor of the newspaper.


Editorial: Don’t Panic; We Are Liberals

Pakistan’s leading news source, Dawn News, broke the story about Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) decision to block this newspaper throughout the country on the instructions of the country’s military. The ambiguous reason cited for blocking Balochistan’s first online newspaper has been reported as the publication of “anti-Pakistan material”. Neither the authorities have specified any news story or an article which they found anti-anyone nor has this newspaper been able to identify any such reports as we have reported from Balochistan as a responsible newspaper. The Baloch Hal , as a law-abiding media outlet, is willing to apologize if the authorities substantiate their allegations.

In fact we do not know who the competent authorities are that make these funny decisions. If sending a text message against the president of the country is also “anti-Pakistan” then the government should also block millions of cell phone connections. If criticizing the government is “anti-Pakistan” then all Urdu newspapers, which call Pakistan as “an American colony” should be banned too. It is simply ridiculous to deprive people of their right of expression in the 21st century under such shallow pretexts like being responsible for publishing “anti-state remarks”.

The Pakistan People’s Party should learn that being democratic in the 21st century is much different from what it used to be in 1970s. No longer do the people only want roti, kapra, makan. Today’s democrats also fight for their right to tweet, blog and Facebook. Until these rights are granted to the citizens, the government falls short to qualify as truly democratic.

Media must not be blamed for the mess that exists in Balochistan. The job of newspapers and television channels is only to state the facts as they are. Therefore, it is insane to kill the messenger. The ongoing conflict in Balochistan has attracted more attention than the 1970s rebellion. There are faster and more reliable sources of communication. Yet, Press is not utterly free and journalists working in Balochistan face serious hardships while conveying the truth to their readers, listeners and viewers. With an increase in the means of communication, the demand for more coverage to people’s issues has also increased. In the backdrop of that situation, Balochs believe they are not being properly and sufficiently represented in the Pakistani media. They accuse the mainstream national media of deliberately snubbing the problems faced by the Balochs.

As far as the ban on the Baloch Hal is concerned, we would like to reassure the government, both in the province and the center, that we do not either love or hate them. This newspaper is solely committed to report the truth from Balochistan. Plus, the Baloch Hal is straining to encourage a generation of young reporters and writers from the country’s most backward province to learn to write in English. We provide them a platform to get a byline and a link to their stories.This is a process of preparing future journalists.

The Baloch Hal team does not have any hard feelings towards the government nor is it going to boycott the government news in the wake of the ban. We will continue to provide equal space to the government and its rivals. By blocking a liberal and progressive newspaper, the government and the military have enormously embarrassed themselves.

Bans on media outlets that report from and about Balochistan will only increase the Baloch sense of alienation and deprivation. Balochs will assume that they are denied job opportunities in the national media. On the top of it, they refuse to listen to a local perspective.

We would like to invite the representatives of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan army, and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to sit on the negotiation table with the Baloch Hal and discuss whatever complaints they have in a highly civilized and dignified manner. Blocking websites, whisking away political activists and murdering prisoners is not the hallmark of a civilized society. There is no need to panic in front of an educated, progressive and liberal generation of Balochs who can put their perspective before a global audience.

Lastly, we wish to deeply thank all progressive print and broadcast journalists, bloggers and writers who have bravely stood with The Baloch Hal at this critical time. They have confirmed that democracy may be dead in Pakistan but democrats still exist


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