Pakistan′s Geo TV faces ′suspension′ amid claims of pre-election rigging | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 03.04.2018
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Pakistan's Geo TV faces 'suspension' amid claims of pre-election rigging

Pakistan's Geo TV, which is critical of the military, has reportedly been taken off air in many parts of the country. Analysts say that cable operators are being forced to suspend the channel on orders of the military.

Pakistan's Geo TV officials say the suspension of its transmission in many parts of the country is an attempt to force the media organization into submission.

While other major private news channels are critical of Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court on corruption allegations in June last year, Geo TV is known for a pro-Sharif stance.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the incumbent government did not order the suspension of the channel, but he failed to explain why the channel faces a blackout across the country.

"Pakistan's constitution and law[s] guarantee the fundamental right of access to information to the citizens of Pakistan," a statement reads on Geo TV's website.

"The Jang Group requests its viewers/readers that if they cannot watch Geo News on their TV screens or if our channels have somehow been shifted from their original numbers, or if they are deprived of receiving their copies of Daily Jang or/and The News, they can lodge complaints…" the statement added.

In the past, both Geo TV and its mother organization, Jang media group, were close to the South Asian country's powerful security establishment, but the channel has become increasingly critical of the military in the past few years.

In 2014, Hamid Mir, a renowned Geo TV anchor and journalist, was shot in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, after which he accused the military's Inter-Services Intelligence agency's then chief Zaheerul Islam of ordering the assassination attempt. Geo TV publicly endorsed the journalists' claims while the military denied any involvement in the attack on Mir.

Read more: Pakistan's Geo TV faces military's wrath

In 2008, Geo TV infuriated the security establishment by broadcasting an investigative report about Ajmal Kasab, one of the militants that carried out the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. The channel was the first to claim that Kasab belonged to Pakistan.

An attempt to influence upcoming elections?

But analysts say the latest tug-of-war between Geo TV and the military is about the former's "support" to deposed PM Sharif, who has challenged both the army generals and top judiciary in the past few years.

Also, Pakistan's mainstream media is generally very cautious while reporting about the military's control over domestic and foreign policies and its alleged support to some proxy Islamist groups in the region. Geo TV, one of Pakistan's most viewed channels, has steadily sided with the political forces that are trying to assert themselves against the military's hegemony.

Read more: Pakistan: One step forward, two steps back

For example, Geo TV's coverage of Sharif is more sympathetic than other news channels, who experts say toe the military's line. Sharif, analysts say, demands more powers for the civilian administration and better ties with India and the United States.

"Geo TV is backing Sharif's narrative that could help the former premier in upcoming polls this year. The channel is also hard on Imran Khan [leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party], who is allegedly backed by the military. The channel's reporting style, therefore, is unacceptable for those who want Sharif's political power reduced," Ahsan Raza, a Lahore-based analyst, told DW.

Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a Karachi-based political analyst, shares the same opinion: "Barring a few English newspapers and the Jang group, most media organizations have taken a pro-military stance and are very critical of Sharif. The military establishment fears that Sharif could still win the upcoming general elections and Geo TV is promoting his agenda. This, in my opinion, is a reason behind the channel's suspension."

Imran Aslam, president of Geo TV Network, says there has been no official confirmation of the channel's suspension but the transmission disruptions are countrywide. "It is an assault on the freedom of expression," Aslam told DW, adding that the gagging amounts to an attempted "pre poll-rigging."

"It is imperative to allow freedom of the press before an election to ensure that the voting is free and fair. We do fear that our transmission is being disrupted in order to strangle the channel financially and make it more pliant and obedient," Aslam added.

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Press freedom

Pakistan's media regulatory authority (PEMRA) has taken notice of the Geo TV suspension and clarified that it "has not issued orders to close down any channel or change its position."

"The shutting down of any licensed channel is the violation of PEMRA laws. The authority has suspended the licenses of [cable operators] Wateen Multimedia Lahore, World Call Cable, Lahore and Karachi, warning if Geo's channels were not restored, their licenses would be cancelled," the statement said.

Civil society groups in Pakistan say the freedom of press in the country is increasingly at risk, with the civilian government also using its power to muzzle the opposition's viewpoint. On the other hand, hardline Islamic groups also threaten journalists and media organizations against secular reporting.

Terrorism and Islamism are the most dangerous issues for Pakistani journalists to report on, according to the South Asian Free Media Association.

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Some political commentators say the claims that the military establishment is behind Geo TV's suspension are baseless.

"If the military's intelligence agencies are threatening cable operators and forcing them to suspend Geo TV's transmission, then why aren't these cable companies coming forward with such claims?" said Amjad Shoaib, a retired military officer and defense analyst.

"Such allegations are aimed at denting the image of the Pakistani army at an international level," Shoaib told DW, adding that the military has nothing to do with politics.

Read more:

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