After the Martial Law, crackdown on lawyers, civil society, media and politicians, now we have seen yet another shameful act by authorities in Pakistan. The latest disturbing news is that Geo Television Network has been shut down and ARY has also been ordered to do the same.
After failing to bring them down on their knees, finally government of Pakistan has decided to cross every civilized limit asking UAE government to close Geo TV and ARY from their Dubai headquarters. The Geo shut down has now taken place (around 12 AM UAE time today) and while ARY was ordered to shut down late night. This is quite unfortunate and will be a big loss for free media and freedom of speech in Pakistan (whatever little is left) and most importantly, for the people of Pakistan.
It will also be a huge setback to fast growing media and journalism sectors in Pakistan and thousands of people will lose their jobs. But then again, anything is expected in a country where entire judiciary is sent home illegally and arrested just because of danger of an unfavorable verdict. Geo and ARY were the only rebel channels left after most of the others have compromised.
Gen. Musharraf’s regime was negotiating with Geo (similar demands for other channels too but I don’t know the specifics asked from ARY) with following main demands:
- Shut down programs by Dr. Shahid Masood, Hamid Mir and Kamran Khan
- Fire The News Islamabad editor Ansar Abbasi and some others.
- All talk shows and other programs are first recorded and the tapes sent to authorities and are only aired after necessary filtering and removal of inappropriate contents.
- Sign an undertaking which basically makes the permanent license of all television channels provisional which means government could terminate their license anytime without notice.
The Geo television network said on Friday that it had been ordered to shut down its news channel. The channel beams its signals from Dubai. Late on Friday night, a spokesman for the ARY network called Dawnâ€™s Karachi and Lahore offices, saying that the group had been told to shut down its news channel.
An announcement on the Geo News said the authorities in Dubai had asked the networkâ€™s administration to close down its operations by Friday midnight.
The network said no reason had been given for the move. However, a senior member of the network, Dr Shahid Masood, came on air to say that it had apparently been done on pressure from Islamabad.
Shortly before the declaration of the state of emergency on Nov 3, the government had used its influence over local cable operators to pull the plug on all domestic and foreign news channels. These included Dawn News, Aaj, Geo, Ary One World, as well as BBC World, CNN and Al-Jazeera.
This was perhaps the biggest news blackout in the history of Pakistan as for nearly two weeks viewers were deprived of all independent news on private television channels, with only the state-run Pakistan Television being allowed to beam news.
Despite the ban, the television channels that beam programmes from ground stations based in Dubai had continued with their transmissions. Although the channels were not available on cable in Pakistan, they could be viewed either through satellite dish, or outside Pakistan.
Over the last couple of days, however, cable operators had been allowed to air a number of domestic and foreign news channels. But in an unprecedented move on Friday night, the authorities in Dubai asked Geo News to shut down its transmission.
It was not clear for how long the network will have to keep its transmission suspended, but one of the most senior anchors at Geo, Kamran Khan, came on air around midnight to express hope that such a situation would not last long.
Our Correspondent adds from Washington: The United States said on Friday that Islamabadâ€™s decision to ban certain private television channels has troubled it.
â€œWe are troubled by this expansion of restrictions on the media despite our calls to ease the restrictions,â€ a State Department official said while commenting on the decision.
Geo website has following details:
GEO TV, Pakistan’s premier Urdu news channel, also seen round the world as the main source of news and current affairs, was shut down at 1 a.m. Pakistan time (12 midnight Dubai time) after President Pervez Musharraf put tremendous pressure to silence a media outlet which had refused to bow down to his dictates. Informed sources said President Pervez Musharraf himself intervened to stop all GEO news transmissions from Dubai, after a two-week standoff in Pakistan during which all major news channels were shut down by cable operators, who are directly controlled by the Pakistani authorities.
The shutting down of the Geo News was universally condemned by almost every political party and member of the civil society minutes before the anchors, almost in tears, signed off. PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif told Dr. Shahid Masood on telephone from London it was a tragic moment in Pakistan’s history as the Musharraf regime was bent upon destroying every symbol of free speech and democracy in the country. Makhdoon Amin Faheem, the PPP Vice Chairman told Geo News, in its dying moments, that it would be a tragedy for the country and democracy if Geo went off the air, which it did minutes later. Lt. General Talat Masood, Retired Chief Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqi and many others representing the civil society, who used to appear regular in Geo talk shows, expressed shock and disgust at the decision to shut of Geo TV.
Popular news anchors came on Geo News around midnight Pakistan time to announce that their channel had been ordered to go off the air as result of the continued deadlock between the Pakistani authorities and the media channels, following the imposition of the emergency in the country. In Pakistan all GEO channels were blocked by the military regime after the imposition of the emergency but on Friday two main channels, DAWN News and AAJ were back on air, with AAJ announcing that two its most popular talks shows, hosted by Talat Hussain, Nusrat Javeed and Mushtaq Minhas, were suspended temporarily. Geo News was shut down because it had refused to budge. After six years of objective and highly professional telecasts, which earned the channel the honour of being the most popular TV channel, the Government of Pakistan put it off the air on Nov 4 after emergency was imposed.
Geo News was under pressure from day one. The government tried to bring it down but the channel became a household name in Pakistan and abroad and was declared by the international observers as the most watched and popular TV channel.
Its role in the judicial crisis, which started on March 9, when the President filed a reference against the Chief Justice, was highly applauded, domestically and internationally.
Geo kept the whole world informed about the developments regarding the events unfolding during the struggle of people of Pakistan for restoration of dignity of the judiciary through its objective reporting by giving all points of view. The programmes, talks shows and commentaries produced by Geo created an impact and awareness among the people.
Sources said the government first asked the Geo administration to stop the most popular programmes of popular TV hosts Dr. Shahid Masood, Hamid Mir and Kamran Khan without offering any tangible reason why they should be stopped.
After the success of the Chief Justice campaign all private news channels were banned from telecasting live programmes and filming outside the studios.
The media workers protested against the move and the government had to accept the demands of the media workers. The shows were allowed to continue but live coverage was banned.
In the meanwhile General Pervez Musharraf kept on resorting to pressure tactics and the Geo channels revenue sources were targeted.
Under his orders all government advertisements were not only stopped but other commercial advertisers were also pressurized not to give business to Geo. The channel withstood all the pressures and suffered huge losses. A statement submitted in the Sindh High Court on Friday said almost Rs1 billion was lost by the channel.
After the emergency General Musharraf banned Geo and other channels inside Pakistan. Geo stood the pressure and refused to sign on the dotted line.
The sources pointed out that the government under General Pervez Musharraf enhanced its pressure on the media to regulate itself under the command of the administration after the clamping of emergency.
The media was strangulated through an ordinance that placed restrictions on its freedom that had no precedent. It was virtually made impossible to carry on free journalism in the country in the presence of the said ordinance.
A so-called code of conduct was thrust upon the media to follow without any consultations with the journalist community. Private channels were asked to sign an undertaking that would have made the channels subservient to the authorities.
This was done after suspending all private channels of the country and the channel administrations were asked to accept the conditions and sign the document of undertaking.
They were told to accept provisional licences instead of the permanent ones they had. The earlier licences were cancelled through the same order.
The sources said that General Pervez Musharraf asked the channels to stop their current affairs programmes, which were not acceptable to him and demanded that anchorpersons should be fired.
The channels who signed the document were restored on the cable. Some channels accepted the official advice while others refused to follow.
Geo declined to oblige General Pervez Musharraf as the demands included cooperation on all points which the new caretaker government would bring up.
It was demanded that Geo should stop the objectionable current affairs programmes and toe the official line.
The authorities wanted that the channel should cooperate with President General Pervez Musharraf.
The channel was further asked to submit all its programmes for monitoring by government officials, as no programme without clearance would be aired.
The sources said that Geo was first forbidden in Pakistan through cable not brought under pressure through the authorities concerned of the country from where it was being aired.
The channel was being seen at some places in the country through dish antennas and Internet but the government’s technical experts first tried to stop it on the Internet and then a ban was placed on the import of dish antenna and relevant equipment used for receiving direct satellite signals. The authorities in the host country had to ask the Geo News to stop its telecast from their up-linking station under excruciating pressure coming from the Government of Pakistan without considering its long-term adverse impact on the image of the host country. The authorities concerned while conveying the message of the Pakistan Government to close down the channel, ridiculed the decision as they had no experience of facing such a demand which was contrary to all norms of decency and business in the modern time business culture, the sources revealed. Geo’s voice was silenced by General Pervez Musharraf as its anchors, almost in tears, bid farewell to its viewers and listeners.
Personally, I am shocked to hear this news because you may disagree with some of the contents or anything shown on television but this is very very disappointing. My personal view is that most of the channels are doing a wonderful job in spreading awareness and educating people. Geo is probably the most successful brand Pakistan ever produced, the largest Urdu language network in the world with vewers across the globe.
ARY also has a very large viewer-ship across the globe. Irony of the situation is that just few hours ago, during the oath taking ceremony of caretaker government, Gen. Musharraf said that we are very proud that in last 5 years, Media has been liberated.
I hope that common sense prevails and this shameful move is withdrawn but keeping in mind the track record of this regime, it is highly unlikely. Another big blunder and highly condemnable act by military government and Gen. Musharraf and will only make him more and more unpopular. I am not sure though if there is anyone left in Pakistan who supports him anymore except for his puppets.
May Allah have mercy on Pakistan. Ameen.