Pakistan's Defense Ministry has officially requested the closure of the country's leading television news channel.
Ministry officials announced on April 23 they had lodged a formal complaint with the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) requesting the cancellation of Geo Television’s broadcasting license after the station aired allegations that Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) is responsible for last week’s shooting of one of the station’s leading presenters in Karachi.
The complaint accuses Geo Television of conducting a "false and scandalous campaign undermining the integrity and tarnishing the image” of ISI and its officers.
Just hours after Geo Television journalist Hamid Mir was shot and wounded, his brother, Amir Mir, said in comments broadcast by Geo Television that the ISI and its head, Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam, had plotted the assassination attempt.
Hamid Mir hosts "Capital Talk," a popular talk show on Geo Television. In recent years he has often criticized the ISI on his show and in newspaper columns. Mir has spoken out against the alleged disappearances of separatists in the restive southwestern province of Balochistan. He has also been highly critical of the political influence of Pakistan’s military and its dominant role in determining security and foreign policies.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the complaint against Geo Television in a statement calling on PEMRA "not to act on this spurious complaint."
Bob Dietz, the organization's Asia program coordinator, said Pakistani security services must recognize the critical role of the media in Pakistan and exercise restraint.
"The ISI is free to rebut allegations in the media but should not try to censor coverage," he said.
Islamabad-based journalist Haroon Rashid told Radio Mashaal that PEMRA is unlikely to move against Geo Television because the organization is currently under interim management.
"Even their board is not complete. How can they shut down a channel in these circumstances?" Rashid said.
Mir is recovering from severe injuries from six gunshot wounds in a Karachi hospital.
The attempt on his life has sharply divided Pakistani media, with many journalists now openly questioning the military and intelligence agencies over journalist intimidation. Other television hosts and columnists, however, have criticized their colleagues for questioning the actions of the ISI and the level of power held by the Pakistani military.
With reporting from AFP and AP.