Pakistan has taken local television station Geo News off air, the latest twist in a bitter row between the country’s most popular channel and Islamabad’s top spy agency over the shooting of a leading journalist.
The government’s media regulatory body said in a statement on Friday the station’s licence was being suspended for 15 days and it would have to pay a fine of 10 million rupees ($100,000).
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) “took a strong notice of violations committed by Geo News and unanimously decided to immediately suspend the license of the said channel for a period of 15 days”, the organisation said in a brief statement emailed to the media.
Geo stayed on the air for a few hours and reported the news of its own license being pulled along with a graphic showing the Geo News logo wrapped in chains, before the signal was cut.
Viewers then saw a blank screen with the message: “The license of Geo News has been suspended by PEMRA, therefore the broadcast of channel has been terminated.”
Rights group Amnesty International described the ban as a “politically motivated attack on freedom of expression and the media”.
“It is the latest act in an organised campaign of harassment and intimidation targeting the network on account of its perceived bias against the military,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia director.
“The Pakistani authorities must immediately reverse this ban. If there are concerns about the content of Geo TV broadcasts, the authorities should address this in line with international human rights standards – not simply move to silence a critical voice.”
Geo News anchor shot
Geo News has locked horns with the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) ever since one of its prominent anchors was attacked in the city of Karachi in April.
|Listening Post – Pakistan: Journalism under fire|
Hamid Mir was shot three times but survived, with his family blaming the chief of the ISI, General Zaheer-ul-Islam, for the attempted murder.
Mir’s brother, Amir Mir, said Hamid had told him before the attack that he felt threatened and if anything happened to him the ISI chief “would be responsible”.
Geo News broadcast images of Islam along with the Mir family allegations for eight hours, infuriating the military which filed a complaint to PEMRA seeking the channel’s closure for a “false and scandalous campaign”.
Mir has also criticised the country’s powerful intelligence agencies and military for their alleged role in the abduction of thousands of people in the restive southwestern province of Balochistan.
Many journalists from the Jang Media Group, which owns Geo News, have reported receiving threats and being harassed following the row.
A regional editor of Jang newspaper, the group’s Urdu daily, was severely beaten in Multan on Monday after leaving his office.