The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) are concerned by events involving the Jang Group of Publications and its popular television channel Geo TV in recent weeks and have backed calls to resist any attempts to shut down the transmission of Geo TV, saying that any moves would be a serious violation of media freedoms in Pakistan with larger implications for the country.
Tensions have been high in Pakistan since senior journalist and popular anchor of Geo TV Hamid Mir was shot in an attempted assassination in Karachi on April 19. Following the incident, Hamid Mir and Geo TV accused the Pakistan army’s spy agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), of orchestrating the attack.
The Pakistani military has formally demanded the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PERMA) revoke Geo's license for waging a "vicious campaign" aimed at "undermining the integrity and tarnishing the image of state institution". Despite an unconditional apology from Geo TV for the claims, both the army and ISI have continued to publicly put pressure on Geo TV. Geo TV is the largest and most influential television station in Pakistan and was previously shut down by military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007.
The IFJ said: “Freedom of expression should not be victim of this clash and we strongly condemn a heavy-handed reaction by the state that would potentially impact the work of hundreds of other Geo TV employees and limit the public’s access to informed debate.”
The PFUJ and associated unions around the country have held seminars and protests on the situation in solidarity with the Jang Group, sending their message to the Pakistani government and world press freedom bodies. The PFUJ has also passed a resolution to oppose any decision to shut down media houses including Geo TV.
The PFUJ said: “We are of a very clear opinion that media organisations should follow the rule of the land but at the same time the PFUJ has a strong stance that there should be no compromise on media freedoms.”
“If an individual has violated the rule of law, that individual should be investigated and taken to task but we will always oppose media organisations being shut down.”
The situation has been further muddied by a separate incident when religious extremists accused Geo TV of broadcasting blasphemous material during a morning show on another program Utho Jago Pakistan, Wake Up Pakistan on May 16. Following the complaints, a meeting of three members of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) suspended the broadcasting licenses of all three TV stations owned by Geo on May 21. Other members of PERMA later revoked the decision but not before many cable TV operators took down Geo TV channels.
The IFJ believes that the decision to suspend the license of any TV channel stands firmly against the notions of a free press in Pakistan and the commitments to a free media by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The IFJ said: “It is the media’s responsibility to hold truth to power, journalists should be able to criticise and question state organisations when they have evidence on hand, and it is the state’s duty to ensure that the media can fulfill their responsibility without feeling under threat from violence, litigation or the threat of silencing by closure.
“For the sake of journalist safety and the livelihoods of the many journalists employed by Geo, we strongly urge for calm and government leadership to bring an end to this issue.”
The IFJ has called upon the media and media rights organisations to stand together in solidarity during this concerning time for Pakistan’s media.