Authorities shut down Geo News after its unprecedented defiance of spy agency over shooting of a journalist
June 6, 2014 9:22AM ET
Pakistan's media regulatory agency on Friday suspended the operating license of the country's leading news channel for two weeks after a spat between the broadcaster and the country's top spy agency over the shooting of a leading journalist.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) suspended Geo News for 15 days and imposed a $100,000 fine. The channel had locked horns with the feared military intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), since anchor Hamid Mir was attacked in the port city of Karachi in April. Mir was shot three times but survived, with his family blaming the chief of the ISI, Gen. Zaheer-ul-Islam, for the attempted murder.
In response, the channel is now suing the ISI, along with the Ministry of Defense and PEMRA "for defaming and maligning" it and the Jang Media Group, which owns Geo News. The channel said it had also given the ISI 14 days to retract its accusations and issue a public apology – an unprecedented move in Pakistan. Although the country’s media have become increasingly vibrant in recent years, with stories exposing corruption or injustices appearing frequently on the pages of daily newspapers, public criticism of the army and the ISI is taboo.
Mir's brother, Amir Mir, said Hamid told him before the attack that he felt threatened and that if anything happened to him, the ISI chief "would be responsible." Geo News broadcast images of Gen. Islam along with the Mir family allegations for eight hours, infuriating the military, which filed a complaint to PEMRA seeking the channel's closure.
Before shutting down, Geo reported the news of its own license being pulled, along with a graphic showing the Geo News logo wrapped in chains. 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."
Many journalists from the Jang Media Group have reported receiving threats and being harassed following Geo's row with the ISI. A regional editor of Jang newspaper, the group's Urdu-language daily, was severely beaten in the city of Multan on Monday after leaving his office.
Geo News is also facing the wrath of the religious community for airing a song-and-dance routine on a breakfast show aired in May. Clerics said it was blasphemous and defamed Islam.
The media group subsequently apologized, a move that was apparently enough to save it from closure but not suspension.
Pakistan began awarding licenses to private channels in 2002, leading to a media boom and a sharp rise in critical reporting. But while the media have been relatively free to report on the country's political parties, the all-powerful army, which has ruled Pakistan for half of the nation’s existence, remains a sensitive topic.