WHAT have Pakistan and Venezuela in common? Not much, one might think. It's true that both are run by elected or semi-elected presidents who sometimes behave like dictators while insisting on their adhesion to democratic principles.

But beyond that they could hardly be more different: Chavez an ebullient man of the people, Musharraf a reserved general shunning the limelight. Chavez blithely causing trouble for the United States throughout Latin America and using his oil money to win friends and influence people. Musharraf torn between his alliance with the US, the growing influence of radical Islam in his country and his troublesome neighbours in Afghanistan.

The past week has shown, however, just how similar apparently dissimilar leaders can be when they face criticism they do not like. Both Hugo Chavez and Pervez Musharrraf have closed down television stations whose news programmes they have found unacceptable.

In Venezuela, Chavez refused to renew the licence of RCTV, the most popular station in the country, because of its “false accusations” that he was “leading the country to ruin” and making Venezuala into a “Cuban-style dictatorship”.

In Pakistan, Musharraf pulled the plug on Geo News which claims 30 million viewers for promoting an “anti-state” attitude and casting aspersions against the judiciary and military. Pakistan's information minister said, “We have given unprecedented freedom to the press but the only thing that is missing is balance.” But, by definition, freedom of the press cannot be qualified by a call for balance.


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