BOB GARFIELD: In a press conference Thursday, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf shocked many in the West by saying murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl had been over-intrusive in his reporting. Journalists, he advised, need to be more cautious about what they dig into. Musharraf's statement was the latest blow to press freedom in Pakistan which previously tolerated aggressive journalism, and the situation is worsening. Shaheen Sebhai was the editor of The News, an influential daily in Pakistan. He resigned last week under pressure after various government ministries demanded that the news cease its investigations into links between Islamic terrorists and the government. The authorities were particularly upset over a report that Sheik Omar, the chief suspect in the Pearl murder, had ties with the Pakistani Intelligence Agency and was involved in the December 13th attack on the Indian Parliament. Shaheen Sebhai joins us now. Mr. Sebhai, welcome to OTM.
SHAHEEN SEBHAI: Thank you for having me, sir.
BOB GARFIELD: How is the Musharraf government actually carrying out the silencing of the press? How did they intimidate your newspaper?
SHAHEEN SEBHAI: First of all, when one of our key reporters who was also reporting for the Washington Post from Karachi, when he filed a story in the evening about Sheik Omar's interrogation, the intelligence agencies broke into our system and found that story, so they started calling up everybody including me at one in the morning to st-- to pull that story out. I refused. I said no, it's - I, I can't do that. So they went to my publisher; then other people and they were suc--successful in pulling it out from some of the editions in other languages; not in the English language. Next day, when my newspaper published the whole story, they were really furious and they cut out the government revenues for the entire group of newspapers. Now, this is the largest newspaper group in Pakistan. It has about 12 daily newspapers coming out from 5 different cities every day.
BOB GARFIELD: What percentage of the newspaper group's revenues come from government advertising?
SHAHEEN SEBHAI:Oh, it's more than 50 percent. The private sector is already down; the economy is in a financial crunch. So all the media depend mostly on the government revenues.
BOB GARFIELD: Now I couldn't help but notice that your resignation wasn't filed until you had left the country.
SHAHEEN SEBHAI: Yes.
BOB GARFIELD:Do you have reason to think that you are in some kind of physical danger or that the intelligence services or forces within the intelligence services will take some sort of revenge against you personally?
SHAHEEN SEBHAI: Absolutely yes. That was the reason I first left the country and then I resigned and did what I did, because I have a-- experience of at least 3 times in the past 10 years that I have been physically attacked, actually attacked. Once they broke into my house and pulled out guns on the head of my sons and threatened them. So I knew that if I took this stand, they'll come after me one way or the other so the best thing was to get out, be safe and then do what [I want].
BOB GARFIELD: Those previous confrontations with security services, did they occur under Musharraf's regime or under the previous one?
SHAHEEN SEBHAI:No, no, no, they were not under Musharraf. Those 3 occasions they were under political governments, but basically it was the agencies who were doing that and-- I knew how they operated and how they went for - after people because I was not the only one; there have been a number of cases in Pakistan where the agencies have been hounding journalists who would not get in line.
BOB GARFIELD: So irrespective of which government happens to be in-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
SHAHEEN SEBHAI: Absolutely.
BOB GARFIELD: -- in power - the security agencies - the ISI - that's a constant.
SHAHEEN SEBHAI:Well, the ISI and there are others also. They come after you in the same pattern whether it's a military government or a civilian government or they chase you, they block your telephones, they block your houses and they beat you up, and if you are too stubborn, they beat up your family! So-- that I did - I couldn't-- risk any more.
BOB GARFIELD:Well on this show in the past, we have talked to various Pakistani journalists about the extraordinary freedom of the press, considering that the Musharraf regime took power in a military coup and is fundamentally a dictatorship. Why this sudden clamping down on the press?
SHAHEEN SEBHAI: You have to keep in mind that Mr. Musharraf is going into an election; what he is trying to do is to build a political party around him and they want this party to win a huge majority in the election so that he can legitimize himself politically through a political process although he came as a military dictator. So for that goal in end, probably they have to manage the media, and that's what I fear -that this is going to grow as time goes.
BOB GARFIELD: Well thank you very much.
SHAHEEN SEBHAI: Thank you very much for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Shaheen Sebhai is the former editor of The News of Pakistan.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, how much government supervision does the Internet need, and how much privacy do celebrities need?
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media from National Public Radio.