Amid the incessant tussle between Pakistan’s military and civilian institutions, the country’s largest television network, Geo TV, has gone off air in most parts of the country, apparently for airing programmes widely seen as unacceptable to the powerful establishment.
Without revealing who was behind the blackout of Geo, Pakistan home minister Ahsan Iqbal said it was not taken off air by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) or the ministry of information. “We are off the air in 80% of the country,” Mir Ibrahim Rahman, the chief executive of Geo network, told media without blaming anyone.
The blackout began in the first week of March, when Geo News went off air in cantonment areas across the country and adjacent residential areas. By the start of April, according to media reports, all Geo channels — including news, entertainment and sports channels — were being blocked across the country by cable operators. According to Pemra, it has issued notices to cable operators not to disrupt transmissions by Geo.
“Though Pemra issued notices, and the matter was heard by the apex court, no one knows how to reverse the situation legally and formally. Officials at the media regulator seem helpless and powerless before the hands of invisible yet powerful people,” Fasihur Rehman Khan, a senior journalist and analyst working for The News, Jang Group, told TOI.
The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern. “The arbitrary suspension of Geo TV on cable TV is a direct assault on Pakistan’s constitutionally guaranteed right to access information,” Steven Butler, the committee’s Asia programme coordinator, said in a statement. “It’s outrageous that the authorities are either unable to find, or too frightened to name, those powerful enough to orchestrate the blocking of the news distribution.”