VIENNA: The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed concern over Pakistani regulators’ decision suspending the licence of the Geo media group.
Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) suspended Geo TV, Pakistan’s largest television network, on June 6 for a period of 15 days and fined them 10 million rupees (approx. €75,000) after receiving a complaint from the Ministry of Defence. If the fine is not paid before the end of the suspension period, the suspension of the license will continue.
The complaint related to Geo News’ coverage of an April 19 Opens external link in new window attack on news anchor Hamid Mir. His brother, Amir, told the station on air that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, was responsible for the attack on his brother and that the agency had threatened the journalist in the past.
Following Amir’s statement, Geo TV repeatedly aired the allegations over the following eight hours without providing a clear basis for the accusation against the intelligence agency, Secretary General of Pakistan Press Foundation Owais Aslam Ali told IPI in an interview.
Geo TV and Jang Media Group, a Geo affiliate, subsequently Opens external link in new windowapologised to Pakistan’s armed forces and the ISI, admitting that its coverage of the attack on Mir had been “excessive, distressful and emotional”. Nevertheless, the broadcast not only led to tensions between Geo and the military, but also caused an outcry by other media outlets that believed Geo’s actions were anti-state and anti-army.
“The biggest threat we face right now is that this is the first time for many decades that there has been a split between the media organisations themselves,” Ali, who is also a member of the IPI Executive Board, said. “The internal division in the media is a bigger threat to press freedom than the external threats.”
That challenge joins a host of others that journalists in Pakistan face, Ali told IPI.
Before this instance, he noted, there had never been success in blocking a media outlet to such a heavy degree.
The current sentiment against Geo TV has also led to a rise in physical attacks and threats against journalists working for the station and its affiliates. Several attacks on newspaper delivery trucks have also been reported in recent weeks.
In one incident, journalist Zafar Aheer was returning home from work on June 1 when six armed men attacked and severely injured him. Aheer was quoted in Opens external link in new windowlocal news reports as saying that the attackers had called him a traitor because he works for Jang Media Group.
“The media has not been able to generate support for press freedom,” Ali said. “Now the public support for press freedom has dwindled to an extent not seen in my lifetime.”
To fix the current situation in Pakistan, Ali said, the country needs to return to normalcy and media organisations need to begin to work on healing the wounds.
In the long term, he continued, media outlets need their own code of conduct, as well as professional editors to decide what airs on TV to avoid a situation akin to the current Geo crisis. Ali also suggested the creation of a self-regulatory complaint system for media content, something Pakistan does not yet have in place.
IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi echoed Ali’s comments, adding: “The suspension of a broadcaster as a consequence of an editorial mistake, for which they have publicly apologised, is an entirely disproportionate remedy. Pakistan is failing to keep true not only to its constitutional and international press freedom obligations, but also to the recent promise expressed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on March 19, when, in a meeting with a Committee to Protect Journalists delegation, he Opens external link in new windowpledged to expand press freedom and to speak out in support of the safety of journalists.”
For more information, contact: Barbara Trionfi, IPI Press Freedom Manager, at +43 (1) 512 90 11 or by e-mail Opens window for sending emailbtrionfi[@]freemedia.at