A senior journalist Hamid Mir was shotat last Saturday in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi and was taken to a local hospital in a critical condition. He is on the mend now, but the attack has spawned a venomous blame game between the Pakistani military and the country’s leading media group. Mir works for Geo TV, which belongs to the power Jang Group, the oldest and most successful news organization in the country.
Apart from journalists, the government also condemned the shooting incident. However, the channel has accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of orchestrating the attack.
Now Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) says it has received a reference from the Defense Ministry, demanding that the channel's license be suspended.
"Of course we are aware of the gravity of this issue and so the complaint is being dealt with at the highest level," said Fakhruddin Mughal, a spokesman for PEMRA.
The ministry accused Geo of running a "vicious campaign" against the ISI and banned the distribution of Jang group newspapers at all Pakistan Army offices – including Daily Jang and The News – as well as the screening of Geo News.
@SamadK Also banned by NAVY and AIR FORCE, in offices as well as all residential areas of the services.
— Capt Adeeb Z Safvi (@AZsafvi) April 23, 2014
The fact that Pakistan is not a safe country for journalists has been proven on various occasions. Just a few weeks ago, another prominent journalist Raza Rumi was attacked by gunmen.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists,five members of the media were killed during 2013.
Hamid Mir’s brother, Amir Mir, a journalist himself, accused the ISI of the attack and Geo TV took it from there. It ran a marathon broadcast, calling for the resignation of the intelligence agency’s chief Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam.
The ISI and the country’s military are not exactly the best friends of the Pakistani media, but many leading journalists in Pakistan do not agree with Geo’s modus operandi. “The attack should be investigated but the adventurism we are seeing should have been avoided and responsibility should have been shown,” says columnist Ayaz Amir.
Another columnist, Talat Hussain, holds, “He [Lt Gen Zaheer-ul-Islam] has been charge-sheeted and the focus is on this one point, ignoring the other aspects.” He added that Mir’s colleagues seem to have registered an official complaint and issued a judgment in the case. “This is against journalistic rules and, in my opinion, unfair to Hamid Mir himself.”
Another veteran journalist Nasim Zehra agrees, “Instead of focusing on Hamid’s condition, Geo’s irresponsible sensationalism targeted the ISI and followed Amir Mir’s statement. It was a display of poor journalism and of terrible judgment. It confused average viewers, and diluted their intense focus on Hamid. Geo’s sensationalism became the dominant story. The professional media’s solidarity with Hamid remained intact but everyone tried to distance themselves from Geo’s initial charge.”
Indian Channels Showed GEO's broadcasting live for more than 8 hours whilst GEO journos were jumping like monkeys against ISI. #BanGEO
— Anjum Kiani (@AnjumKiani) April 23, 2014
# With the grace of God, Hamid Mir is safe & will be back on screen soon! However the way GEO tried cashing on this tragedy is disgusting! #— Moeed Pirzada (@MoeedNj) April 19, 2014
Geo now saying Hamid Mir told his colleagues, family, friends and some officials if he's attacked DG ISI Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam responsible.— Abbas Nasir (@abbasnasir59) April 19, 2014
The channel has started backtracking on the aggression, but it seems to be too late. Brass feathers have been ruffled one time too many.
— Sabena Siddiqi (@sabena_siddiqi) April 23, 2014
Just watched "aaj Kamran khan key sath" on Geo ! There is total panic in Geo now, they are blaming each other for debacle, confused :)— Zaid Hamid (@ZaidZamanHamid) April 22, 2014
The military had been publicly harassed on several other fronts, including government concessions to the Pakistani Taliban during talks and the continuation of the treason trial of the country’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf. However, it seems this attack by the channel may be the last straw.
However, as much as the public and military sentiment goes against the news organization; banning it is not the answer. If anything, it promotes a lack of tolerance for views we do not agree with. It's decisions like these that cost a lot in the long run. Who can guarantee an authority like this will not be misused in the future?
So, whereas a warning or a penalty may be issued against GEO TV; banning it would not really serve a purpose.
After all, two wrongs do not make a right; do they?