Asia

Pakistan's Geo 'should be shut' for Hamid Mir attack coverage

  • 23 April 2014
  • From the section Asia
Pakistani journalists shout slogans during a protest against an attack on television anchor Hamid Mir in Karachi on April 21, 2014.
Image caption News of Hamid Mir's shooting has shocked journalists and other Pakistanis

Pakistan's biggest news channel Geo TV should be shut for airing accusations that the country's spies were behind an attack on its most prominent presenter, the defence ministry has demanded.

The regulator is considering the request, which comes amid army tensions with the civilian government.

Hamid Mir was shot while being driven in the southern city of Karachi on Saturday. He is stable in hospital.

Pakistan is one of the word's most dangerous countries for journalists.

The BBC has learned that Hamid Mir had warned of threats against him for more than two years.

He is said to have sent emails to colleagues claiming that "rogue elements" in the ISI planned to attack him because of his reports about the killing of separatists in Balochistan.

Mr Mir, who was the first journalist to interview Osama bin Laden after 9/11 and is one of Pakistan's best-known presenters, survived an attack by the Taliban in 2012.

He was hit six times in the abdomen and legs after his car was fired on by men on motorbikes as he was leaving Karachi airport.

It remains unclear who fired the shots and no group has said it carried out the attack.

The request for Pakistan's Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to cancel Geo's licence was made by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, who is a civilian and close to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

But correspondents say the ministry's real power lies with the military officers in the building and Pakistan's media have speculated that they pushed for the request to be made.

Pemra may take time to look into the matter because it currently has no chairman and cannot rule on such issues.

But the move is being seen as a strong message from the country's powerful military, which was angered after the coverage of the shooting of Hamid Mir.

Mr Mir's brother went on Geo TV and directly accused the ISI intelligence agency of ordering the attack, while the station repeatedly aired the picture of Zaheerul Islam, the head of the ISI.

The news channel later backtracked. The ISI has dismissed the charge as baseless and misleading.

Image caption In 2001, Mr Mir became the first journalist to interview Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks

The defence ministry says Geo brought the ISI into disrepute.

Its complaint accuses Geo of conducting "a vicious campaign, libellous and scandalous in nature... against a state institution tasked to work for the defence, sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan - that is, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and its DG (director-general), Lt General Mohammad Zaheerul Islam".

It said the Geo coverage "was aimed at undermining the integrity and tarnishing the image of the state institution and its officers and falsely linking it with the terrorist outfits. The attempt was detrimental to the interest of the institution and the country."

Geo also came under heavy criticism from rival TV channels and ex-military analysts for its coverage in the first few hours following the attack, the BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says.

Some of the rival coverage has even been critical of Mr Mir for being outspoken and often controversial.

While the shooting was a violent reminder of the dangers Pakistani journalists face on a daily basis, the aftermath also highlighted problems with the standards of the country's media, the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Islamabad says.

The Geo management has not formally responded to the ISI allegation, but has called for the Pemra inquiry to be fair and blamed some rival television channels for "wrongly attributing the allegations against ISI to Geo".

"While we were only reporting the version of Mr Mir's family who said he had been expecting such an attack from the ISI operatives, some of the channels interpreted it as Geo's official version and launched a campaign against us," one of its senior managers Rana Jawwad said.

The attack has been strongly condemned by Pakistani politicians, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Last month, Mr Sharif pledged to do more to protect journalists in Pakistan.

Five journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2013 and more than 50 have died since the early 1990s. Most murders remain unresolved.

Last month, Raza Rumi, a journalist for the Express news channel, escaped an attack in the city of Lahore, during which his driver was killed. Mr Rumi has since left the country because of threats to his life.

Pakistan has a history of coups. The row with Geo could worsen relations between the Sharif government and the powerful military, which is watching warily as former army chief Pervez Musharraf is tried for treason and peace talks are held with the Pakistani Taliban.

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