ISLAMABAD - The Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (Pemra) on Friday suspend the licence of Geo News for a period of 15 days along with a fine of Rs10 million at the asking of defence ministry, which had accused the TV channel of defaming country’s premier spy agency and its chief.
On the other hand, the TV channel and its parent Jung Group is suing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), defence ministry and Pemra for defamation over accusations of being anti-state. The channel has served legal notice on them, giving ISI 14 days to retract its accusations and issue a public apology.
The defence ministry had submitted a complaint with Pemra, accusing Geo TV of running a vicious campaign aimed at maligning the image of the ISI by reporting that the spy agency was behind the April shooting of one of Pakistan’s most famous journalists, Hamid Mir.
The decision to suspend channel’s licence was taken by Pemra during its 96th meeting. All three private members boycotted the meeting and criticised the decision regarding ban on Geo News. The meeting was convened by the newly appointed Pemra Chairman Muhammad Parvez Rathore under Rule 3(4) of Pemra Rules 2009.
“The Authority, after thread-bare discussion while considering all the relevant provisions of Pemra laws, took a strong notice of violations committed by GEO News and unanimously decided to immediately suspend the licence of the said channel for a period of 15 days, besides imposing a fine of Rs10 million”, said a statement issued by the authority.
It said the fine will have to be paid before the expiry of the suspension period and in case of non-payment, the suspension of the licence shall continue. In addition, the authority decided that in case of repeated violation by the said licencee, proceedings for the revocation of the licence shall be initiated.
After the decision, instructions were issued for the implementation in the statement saying “All field offices of Pemra have been directed to implement the decision of the Authority in letter and spirit with immediate effect.”
The defence ministry’s four-page complaint submitted with Pemra included the script of news bulletins, tickers and breaking news, says that ‘the said reporting has violated the specific terms and conditions of the licence’.
The ministry urged the regulator to ‘immediately suspend the licence and after examining the facts cancel the licence of the Independent Media Corporation (Pvt) Ltd granted under Section 20 of the Pemra Ordinance, 2002’.
In its complaint, the defence ministry not only asked for Geo’s broadcasting licence to be revoked, but called for the media regulator to initiate criminal proceedings against its editors and management. The complaint had been initiated following approval from Defence Minister Khawaja Asif under Sections 33 and 36 of the Pemra Ordinance 2002 to take legal action against the channel’s management for attempting to frame the ISI and its chief for attack on senior journalist Hamid Mir in Karachi on April19.
Agencies add: “Geo and Jang Group (have) served legal notice on the Ministry of Defence, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) for defaming and maligning the group,” the channel said in a report published in a newspaper owned by its parent company.
“More than 8,000 journalists, workers and professionals attached to the group and their families are not only being harassed but also attacked and tortured across Pakistan,” it said. Geo News gave the ISI 14 days to retract its accusations and issue a public apology.
The standoff over Geo, part of the privately owned Jang Group, has exposed divisions between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the army which has ruled the country for more than half of its history. The military has long seen the government’s resistance to efforts to shut Geo News as a sign of defiance and Pemra’s latest move is seen as a compromise solution after weeks of tension.
But even before the Pemra order, the channel had been taken off the air in several parts of the country since the dispute began, allegedly under army pressure, according to its lawsuit. Distribution of the parent group’s newspapers, prominently Urdu daily Jang and English daily The News, has also been disrupted. Last month, the channel apologised for the allegations against the ISI but temperatures have failed to cool.