Reporters Without Borders condemns today’s decision by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to suspend all broadcasting by the TV news channel Geo News for 15 days.
The decision was taken in response to a defence ministry complaint to PEMRA accusing Geo News of waging a “vicious campaign, libellous and scandalous in nature” after its star talk show presenter Hamid Mir was badly injured in a targeted shooting on 19 April.
PEMRA also ordered Geo News to pay a fine of 10 million rupees (75,000 euros) within 15 days, failing which the suspension would remain in effect, and warned that any further breach of regulations could result in its licence being permanently withdrawn.
“Suspending a TV station’s licence is a grave violation of freedom of information especially when it is the country’s leading news channel,” Reporters Without Borders said.
The suspension follows a major smear campaign against Geo News that began after it broadcast claims that the intelligence agencies were behind the attack on Mir. Both the defence ministry and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s leading intelligence agency, responded by accusing Geo New of being “anti-state.”
On 20 May, several PEMRA members ordered the closure of Geo News and two of its sister channels, Geo Tez and Geo Entertainment, and the withdrawal of their licences, but they were immediately overruled by other PEMRA members.
Geo News has meanwhile announced its intention of suing the ISI over the “anti-state” accusation and seeking 500 million dollars in damages. It is also calling on the defence ministry, the ISI and PEMRA to public apologize to the media group and its employees for the accusations.
The Pakistani media are operating in a steadily deteriorating environment, with threats, intimidation attempts, attacks and torching of newspaper distribution trucks becoming increasingly frequent.
Pakistan is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.