Facing risks of being shut down, Pakistan’s popular television channel Geo News apologized to the nation’s spy agency for airing comments accusing it of involvement in a gun attack on a talk show host.
Coverage immediately after the attack on Hamid Mir last month was “excessive, distressful and emotional” and the channel deeply apologizes for the “deep hurt to ISI as an institution” and the armed forces, according to a statement on the front page of Geo TV’s sister publication the News, referring to the Inter-Services Intelligence.
The apology comes a day before the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory meets to discuss the defense ministry’s complaint, which seeks to take Geo News off air. The row reflects the dominant role of Pakistan’s military and its spy agency in the nation’s domestic politics. The army has ruled the country for more than half of its 67-year-old history and has resisted attempts by past governments to exert control over the ISI.
“I don’t think a mere apology will settle things,” said Rashid Ahmed Khan, head of the international relations department at the University of Sargodha in Punjab province. “I think the circles which were offended by this broadcast, they would like to inflict such damage on Geo group that in future it is reduced to such a position that it will have no option but to follow the line given to it by the establishment.”
The apology will have no bearing on tomorrow’s deliberation, Pervez Rathore, PEMRA acting chief, said by phone from Islamabad.
Hours after the April 19 assault, in which Mir was struck by six bullets and survived, his brother Amir appeared on Geo TV and said Mir had been under threat from the ISI. Mir in his first statement after the attack said the ISI was not happy with reporting about Balochistan on the show “Capital Talk,” as well as criticism of intelligence agencies’ role in the country’s politics.
Pakistan is ranked the fourth-deadliest country for media personnel, according to a 2013 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. As many as 54 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992, the organization said.
Saleem Shahzad, a correspondent for the Italian news agency AKI and the Hong Kong-based website Asia Times Online, was found dead in May 2011 after a human rights group said he had reported threats from intelligence officers over his coverage of alleged links between the military and Islamic militant guerrillas.
Religious groups and competing TV channels this month have accused Geo of blasphemy for airing a religious hymn during a morning show conducted by a female host. The channel has apologized for the action against which several people have filed lawsuits in courts across the country.
Pakistan’s cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan has also accused Geo of a role in the alleged rigging of polls last year in which his party emerged as the third-largest in the National Assembly.