ISLAMABAD— Pakistan’s Defense Ministry has asked the government's media regulator to shut down a leading television news channel for airing “false and scandalous” allegations that the country’s spy agency was behind the shooting of one of its prominent anchors.
The controversy erupted shortly after gunmen wounded Hamid Mir, a popular talk show host for the private Geo News channel. Mir was being driven to the studio in Karachi when he was attacked last Saturday. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds and is now recovering in a hospital in the southern port city.
Soon after, Mir’s brother, Amir Mir, appeared on the television station and accused the chief of military-run Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, of orchestrating an assassination attempt. Talat Hussain, a columnist and political commentator, said there was nothing wrong with making such an allegation.
“But then what happened was that analysts who were working with Geo, their important news-position holders, their anchorpersons all started to rub [in] this point almost as if the ISI chief has been proven to be guilty and this went on for another 24 hours,” said Hussain.
The military denies the allegations, terming them regrettable and misleading. Late Tuesday it submitted a complaint through the Defense Ministry asking the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority to cancel Geo’s broadcasting license and take it off the air. The complaint accuses the TV station of “furthering [an] anti-Pakistan agenda.”
But the action has worried press freedom advocates such as New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Its Asia program coordinator, Bob Dietz, said the Pakistani media regulator has the authority to shut down broadcasters on such complaints and it has done so under previous administrations.
“If there are any mistakes that were made, and I am not much sure there were at all, these can be resolved. But for any arm of the government to start shutting down broadcasters or closing down newspapers I think it is just way overwrought. In not just in Pakistani media -- but in most countries’ media there is a lot of leeway given to the military and to the intelligence agencies but none of them are above criticism," said Dietz.
While conducting his prime time “Capital Talk” show, Mir has often criticized the military and the spy agency of abusing their authority.
There are reports that Mir sent a video message to the CPJ in which he accuses the ISI chief of planning to kill him. Dietz said his organization has no knowledge of a video.
“We don’t have it, we never got it and as far as we can tell it was never sent,” said Dietz.
The media regulator says it has received the defense ministry's complaint and will deal with it under the law. The regulator also says Geo will have an opportunity to explain its point of view.
There are no claims of responsibility for the attack on Mir, although authorities recently informed him and a number of other news anchors on other private TV channels that they could be on targeted by the Pakistani Taliban.