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Pakistani TV Channel Complains Broadcast Being Blocked


FILE - A Pakistani viewer looks at a television screen flashing suspension notice of GEO News channel in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Officials at Pakistan's largest privately-owned television network, Geo, said Friday that cable operators have effectively blocked its broadcast in almost 80 percent of the country.

The channel has been facing arbitrary blockages for the past few years in cantonment areas and surrounding localities across the country, according to Rana Jawad, who directs news at Geo.

"But the crippling shutdowns and disruptions have worsened in recent weeks and the network has been forced off the air in almost 80 percent of the country," he told VOA.

In major cities like Karachi and Lahore, the channel is not accessible in 90 percent of areas, he added. It is up to the government and its media regulator to swiftly investigate and determine who is blocking the broadcast, he asserted.

Debates on social media about the issue strengthen the widespread perception the powerful army has been pressuring cable operators to disrupt Geo's broadcasts. Some postings cited the broadcaster's criticism of both security policies and the military's increased influence over civilian matters as a possible reason for the disruption.

Jawad would not explicitly say who is targeting the network and why it is being done. There also has been no public comment from the military about whether it is orchestrating the shutdowns.

Government officials and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, PEMRA, insist they have nothing to do with the issue.

Instead, PEMRA issued instructions to cable operators earlier this week to restore Geo to normal distribution, or face suspension of their licenses.

New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, has called for full access to Geo 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," lamented Steven Butler, CPJ's Asia program coordinator.

"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," he said.

Geo's 4,000 employees have come under immense "economic and psychological" pressure because they are worried financial losses to their employer could cost them their jobs, Jawad cautioned.

This report was written by VOA's Ayaz Gul in Islamabd.

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