Lahore, Pakistan, Oct 13, 2016 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Several Christian television stations in Pakistan were ordered to stop transmitting last month, after the nation's media regulator found that they didn’t have the legal permit required to broadcast their materials.
“It’s true that we didn’t have permission for the radio,” Alessandro Monteduro, president of the Italian branch of Aid to the Church in Need, told CNA Oct. 12. For two years Monteduro’s branch has been supporting a specific project on Catholic TV, the television network of the Archdiocese of Lahore. While Monteduro admitted they didn’t have the necessary legal permit in order to broadcast their content, he said the network had been following the proper legal procedures, but that the procedures had been changed and that they were unaware of the changes.
In Monteduro’s opinion, the absence of the permit was used as an excuse to close Catholic TV and the other 10 networks, preventing the Christian message from being heard in Pakistani society. He said such acts are the daily bread of Christians in the country, and that by now they “are used to it.”
The order to close the networks was issued by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which is a body of the Pakistani government. Issued Sept. 22, the citation included Catholic TV and 10 other Christian television networks broadcasting in Urdu considered to be illegal, terming them “unauthorized TV.” The citation said that “all the Regional Directors General are invited to take the necessary steps to immediately stop the illegal transmission of TV channels in their respective regions.”
Monteduro expressed his regret for the 11 people working for Catholic TV in Lahore who are now out of a job. He was skeptical about the possibility of re-opening the network, saying that “without a collective indignation I don’t think we will be given the possibility of reopening.” “A form of indignation is needed,” he repeated, but said that, although the prospects are difficult, it might be possible for the network to start again from zero, re-establishing themselves anew with the proper legal permits.
Fr. Robert McCulloch, an Australian priest and member of the Missionary Society of St. Columban, spoke to CNA about the closing of the networks, cautioning that “it’s important not to overreact” to the situation. Having lived in Pakistan for 34 years, from 1978-2011, the priest was decorated by the Pakistani government in 2012 for his services to health and education in the country.
Although the closing of the networks is sad to see, Fr. McCulloch noted that “these are not big TV channels … they’re small diocesan networks or even parish networks that are being set up, maybe in a particular locality,” so for the most part “they’re not national.”
He said that rather than making the decision out of direct malice toward Christians, it’s possible the government is cracking down more on organizations without proper permits for telecommunications activities due to their intensifying conflict with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Relations between India and Pakistan have been tense since a Sept. 18 attack by militants on an army base in Indian-administered Kashmir. Some in India believe the militants were were backed by Pakistan, and India has claimed to have carried out “surgical strikes” against suspected militants along the “line of control” between Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir. Given the situation, the priest noted that “things are rather tense there at the present time.”
With Lahore sitting within 100 miles of Kashmir, “anything concerning telecommunications, anything like that is being heavily monitored.” Fr. McCulloch emphasized the need to be “very careful” when it comes to describing the situation of Christians in Pakistan, saying that while they certainly face “intense discrimination,” which at times includes violence, the situation is “not one of persecution.”
“Our hospitals are open, we’ve got a major seminary in Karachi for the last four years where there are 84 seminarians coming in and out, that’s open,” he said, stressing that the situation isn’t nearly the same as in other countries, such as North Korea, China, Saudia Arabia, Iran, or Afghanistan. “People have got to be careful in terms of what words they use in describing the situation there. Discrimination certainly, but persecution not.”