Pakistan Seeks to Take GEO TV Off Air Over Spy Allegation

Pakistan’s Defense Ministry is seeking to cancel the Geo television channel’s license after it aired comments accusing the country’s main spy agency of involvement in a gun attack on the host of one its talk shows.

The ministry has lodged a complaint with the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory, or PEMRA, asking it to take Geo News television off the air after it broadcast reports alleging officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, ISI, were behind the April 19 attack on Hamid Mir, a ministry spokeswoman said yesterday. She asked to be not be identified citing departmental policy.

“The clash between institutions is becoming a precedent,” Umbreen Javed, head of the political science department at the University of Punjab said by phone. “This is not a good trend for democracy, which is still in its early phase and is still immature.”

The row reflects the dominant role of Pakistan’s army and its powerful spy agency in domestic politics as well as key security policies. The army has ruled the country for more than half of its 67-year-old history and has resisted attempts by the past governments to exert control over ISI.

In 2008, a few months after taking office, the government of then-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced it had exercised its constitutional authority over the ISI to transfer its oversight to the civilian Interior Ministry, an announcement it retracted within hours.

Govt. Complaint

PEMRA directed GEO late yesterday to respond to the government complaint within 14 days, failing which the regulator may impose a fine, suspend or revoke the broadcaster’s license, according to a spokesman.

In last week’s incident, a gunman sprayed bullets on Mir’s car after he left the Karachi airport and fled with the help of an accomplice on a motorbike, according to reports broadcast on Geo TV. Mir was struck by six bullets and survived the attack. Soon afterward, Geo aired comments accusing some members of the ISI of involvement.

Hamid Mir’s brother, Amir, appeared on the channel and said his brother had been under threat from the ISI. A few hours later, the army’s press office issued a statement condemning the shooting, while also criticizing the attack on the ISI “without any evidence.”

Legal Parameters

Kamran Khan, Geo’s senior analyst, yesterday said in live comments on the channel that the defense ministry had filed an application to PEMRA expressing its reservations with the network. PEMRA will now issue a notice to Geo after which the channel will present its position.

“Geo will cooperate with any action or initiative that falls within the legal and constitutional parameters,” Khan said by phone yesterday. “We will show our cooperation and present our viewpoint.’

Over the last three years, Mir had on two occasions told Amnesty International he believed his life was under threat from different quarters, including the ISI and the Pakistani Taliban, David Griffiths, deputy Asia Pacific director of the the London-based organization, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

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.

Police in November defused an explosive device attached to Mir’s car, according to the Associated Press. A week before that incident, Mir had hosted programs that included reports on deadly attacks against Pakistan’s Shiite minority sect.