Geo TV, one of Pakistan’s major television networks, has reportedly gone off the air in most parts of the country.
“We are off the air in 80% of the country,” Mir Ibrahim Rahman, the network’s chief executive, told The New York Times in an interview earlier this week. This is being seen as the military’s move to assert its control over the media and other civilian institutions.
The network’s channels were reportedly shut down in the first week of March in cantonment areas across the country and residential neighbourhoods that the military controls. Cable operators in other areas then started blocking the channels.
Home Minister Ahsan Iqbal claimed that neither the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority nor the Ministry of Information were behind the blackout, The Times of India reported on Saturday. The regulatory body released a statement on April 2, ordering cable operators to restore the network’s channels to their original positions, Dawn had reported earlier this week.
“Though Pemra [Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority] issued notices, and the matter was heard by the apex court, no one knows how to reverse the situation legally and formally,” senior journalist Fasihur Rehman Khan told The Times of India.
The alleged censorship of the news channel has come at a time when tensions between the military and the civilian government, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political party, are high. Sharif, who was ousted from office in 2017, is on trial over corruption charges. Sharif has accused the military and the judiciary of working together to remove him. Geo News’ coverage has been sympathetic to Sharif and critical of his political rival Imran Khan.
The news channel may have also irked the military by its critical coverage of Pakistan’s placement on a terror financing watch list, and its criticism of Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s positions on domestic and foreign policy matters, The New York Times reported.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has expressed concerns about the situation, and called for full access to be restored. “The arbitrary suspension of Geo TV on cable TV is a direct assault on Pakistan’s constitutionally guaranteed right to access information,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler. “It is outrageous that authorities are either unable to find or too frightened to name those powerful enough to orchestrate the blocking of news distribution.”