Pakistan: agency pulls license of top news station

The organization suspended Geo News for 15 days and imposed a 10 million rupee fine - roughly $100,000

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Pakistan’s media regulatory agency on Friday suspended the operating license of the country’s leading news channel for two weeks after a spat between the broadcaster and the country’s powerful military.

The decision was announced Friday by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. The organization suspended Geo News for 15 days and imposed a 10 million rupee fine - roughly $100,000.

The Authority “took a strong notice of violations committed by GEO News and unanimously decided to immediately suspend the license of the said channel for a period of 15 days,” the organization said in a brief statement emailed to the media.

Geo stayed on the air for a few hours and reported the news of its own license being pulled along with a graphic showing the Geo News logo wrapped in chains, before the signal was cut. Viewers then saw a blank screen with the message: “The license of Geo News has been suspended by PEMRA, therefore the broadcast of channel has been terminated.”

The suspension is the latest challenge for the media company following an assassination attempt against its top news anchor, Hamid Mir, on April 19. Mir survived six gunshot wounds to the stomach and legs during the attack in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, on the southern coast.

The station angered the country’s powerful military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, by repeatedly airing accusations by Mir’s brother that it was behind the attack.

The ministry of defense later petitioned the regulatory agency to pull Geo’s license. The regulator has not made the complaint public but in a copy obtained by the Committee to Protect Journalists and posted on the CPJ website, the ministry blamed Geo for a “false and scandalous campaign” against the ISI and its officers.

Advocates of press freedom have condemned the efforts to suspend Geo News. CPJ said in a statement on April 22 that the ISI was free to rebut allegations against it but should not try to censor media coverage.

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