Early last month, Pakistan’s Geo TV went black and remains off the air across much of the country and no one in a position of authority is saying why. Government ministers and the broadcasting regulator have denied any involvement.
The cable companies that pulled the plug on Geo are staying silent. As is the Pakistani military, which has butted heads with Geo before and is suspected by numerous political and media observers as having ordered the blackout.
While Geo TV used to follow the government line, it has in the last decade began to grow in another direction, according to observers.
“What we see now is actually Geo trying to not completely follow the state narrative on politics and that is largely considered to be the source of current friction between the channel and the military, according to Ayesha Siddiqa, research associate at SOAS University and author of Military Inc. “Geo was offering a bit of an alternative and even that was not tolerated.”
Authorities in various countries tend to grow less tolerant of critical journalism as elections approach – and Pakistan has one coming up later this year.
Among the election-related topics Geo has covered that may have landed it in trouble is the 18th amendment, a constitutional change made in 2010 that forbids the military from getting involved in political areas outside its own remit of defence.
The army chief of staff wants that amendment abolished. Geo has taken a contrary – and, therefore, politically contentious view.
There is also the corruption trial of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was permanently banned from politics by the Supreme Court this past week. His visibility has been much higher on Geo than on other news channels.
“Recently, New York Times wrote an article and they claimed that Geo is supporting Nawaz Sharif, so that’s why some powerful people in Pakistan are not happy with the Geo TV,” says Hamid Mir, senior anchor at Geo News. “But even if Geo is supporting Nawaz Sharif, it is not a legal excuse to shut down a TV channel.”
The Pakistani media’s almost complete silence on the side-lining of their journalistic colleagues at Geo tells its own story. One that could, in the not too distant future, come back to haunt them.
“Geo’s story has not been reported anywhere except for the social media, and this is extremely unfortunate,” explains Asad Baig, executive director at Media Matters for Pakistan. “Naturally, we don’t expect any of these rivals to be reporting the shutdown of Geo. Why would they? It’s good for their business. It’s as plain and simple as that.”
Hamid Mir, senior anchor, Geo News
Marvi Sirmed, journalist, Daily Times
Asad Baig, executive director, Media Matters for Pakistan
Ayesha Siddiqa, research associate, SOAS University and author of Military Inc.
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