Barely one year into office, the Pakistan prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has a serious problem on hand which could be seriously destabilizing for his Govt. For almost seven years now, Pakistan has opened up its media and has shown a mushrooming of various TV channels, including 24 hour news channels. In fact this was a gift by the much maligned former President, gen Parvez Musharaf.
Geo TV has emerged as the largest Pakistani TV channel. The channel has of late been on a collision course with the countrys powerful intelligence agency ISI. This all started when Hamid Mir, a prominent journalist and TV anchor working with Geo TV was attacked by gunmen in Karachi. He put the blame for the attack squarely on the ISI and Geo TV went all out against the intelligence agency. Initially ISI threatened the TV channel and asked the media regulator PEMRA to cancel their license. Initially this demand was not accepted, but ISI kept up the pressure through its various proxies. On Tuesday, May 20th, PEMRA said that Geo News, Geo Entertainment and Geo Tezs licenses have been suspended till May 28.
It is very evident that other Pakistani channels were very active in having Geos license cancelled. The Mullah-media madness is evident in this entire episode. The larger picture seems that they are not just going against one media channel but it can easily become an assault on freedom of expression in Pakistan. Some media houses in Pakistan have acted as a gang of wolves, who kill their own injured or fatigued brothers.
There were indirect allegations against Hamid Mir, as if he himself masterminded the attack on him. One columnist even said that how could professionals like ISI miss the target and fail to get its man. In launching a direct attack on ISI, Hamid Mirs and Geos competitors found a great opportunity to settle scores.
Not that Geo has a very enviable record of always playing fairly and going by the rule book. Far from it. It has its share of going against certain individuals and almost hounding them. Ali Dayan, the Director of Human rights Watch Pakistan, Asma Jehangir, leading Pakistani human rights activist and Parvez Hoodhboy, Pakistani intellectual, all have been targeted by the channel for not being patriotic enough.
It just doesn’t seem to be an isolated attack on a media house. People who know and have seen Pakistani politics and how it works, believe that there is a larger picture and this attack is two fold. Geo TV is the smaller and less consequential target. The real target seems to be the civilian Govt led by Nawaz Sharif. By going after one media house, the plan is perhaps to curb the freedom of expression, which is a frontal attack on democracy. Ironically, it is the various media groups which in collusion with the Mullahs are trying to bring about these curbs. The old establishment mantra that a free media and democracy go against the Govt stability is again being pushed around. The Mullahs are in demand since it seems it is raining blasphemy in Pakistan. Blasphemy charges have also been leveled against Geo. These tensions come in the backdrop of Gen Musharrafs trial.
In this whole din, Imran Khan and his PTI are bringing no glory to themselves. Infact Imran Khan has taken it upon himself to label every dissenter as a paid agent who is disloyal to Pakistan. His tirades against the media group are perhaps a result not only of his own personal grudge with it but also the fact that he thinks it is in cahoots with the ruling establishment. The PML-N Govt cannot be seen to be inactive in this entire drama. If it remains oblivious to these developments, the unfolding drama could very well sink its ship as well.
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