ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s powerful army has asked a government regulator to shut down a leading private news channel over what the military calls “false” reports that the country’s intelligence service shot one of its top anchors.
Press freedom advocates on Wednesday decried the move against Geo News TV, whose popular talk show host Hamid Mir suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the attack last Saturday.
Mir’s shooting has sparked protests by journalists in Pakistan, a country considered one of the world’s most dangerous postings for reporters. The military and intelligence services still hold tremendous power despite its transition to democracy.
The complaint, posted on the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the army wanted the station closed because of its “false and scandalous campaign” against Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Mir’s brother, Amir Mir, appeared on the station after the shooting and blamed the ISI for trying to kill his brother, saying he told his family about threats made by the service against him.
Since then, the station has repeatedly aired the accusations against the spy agency, blaming it for the “assassination attempt” against Mir.
The ISI, which has no public spokesman, has not comment publicly about the allegations. However, the defense ministry filed the complaint late Tuesday against Geo to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority, spokesman Fakhruddin Mughal said. The complaint accuses the station of “undermining the integrity and tarnishing the image of (a) state institution and its officers and falsely linking it with the terrorist outfits.”
“The reporting made and the programs aired cannot be viewed as a single event,” the complaint reads. “Geo Network has a history of acting illegally in furtherance of the anti-Pakistan agenda.”
The complaint asks the authority to revoke Geo’s licenses.
Mughal said the authority’s legal team issued a notice Wednesday to Geo about the complaint, seeking a reply in 14 days. He said Geo representatives have been ordered to appear May 6 before the authority.
Late Wednesday, Geo reported on air that it believed authorities had blocked their signal in some parts of the country. Officials could not be immediately reached for comment about the claim.
Mir suffered six gunshot wounds to the stomach and legs in the attack in the port city of Karachi. Last year, authorities found a bomb under Mir’s car. He escaped unharmed.
In recent weeks, Mir’s show gave prominent coverage to a group campaigning against the disappearances and torture of insurgents and their supporters in southwestern Baluchistan province, allegedly at the hands of ISI.
The ISI has been accused of harassing and even killing journalists in the past, including Saleem Shahzad in 2011. U.S. officials have said Pakistan’s military and intelligence service authorized Shahzad’s torture and murder. Pakistani officials have denied involvement in Shahzad’s death.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, which recently urged the government in Islamabad to do more to protect journalists, warned Wednesday that the complaint against Geo amounted to censorship.
“We call on Pakistan’s security services to recognize the critical role of the media and exercise tolerance and maturity,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The ISI is free to rebut allegations in the media but should not try to censor coverage.”
Meanwhile, a top cleric representing Pakistani Taliban met with government negotiators in Islamabad on Wednesday to discuss ongoing peace talks. The meeting with cleric Maulana Samiul Haq took place a week after the Taliban refused to renew a cease-fire they had declared for the talks.
After the meeting, Haq said he was still trying to arrange a second round of direct talks between the Taliban and the government.