Pakistan's Defence Ministry has demanded that a prominent news channel be suspended after it reported that the country's powerful spy agency was behind the shooting of one of Pakistan's most famous journalists, a media regulator said on Wednesday.
Hamid Mir, a veteran talk-show presenter at privately owned Geo News, survived the attack after unidentified gunmen shot him multiple times in the port city of Karachi on Saturday. Geo has since repeatedly accused the military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of being behind the shooting. The military has denied the accusation. On Wednesday, Pakistan's electronic media watchdog said it had received a complaint from the Defence Ministry demanding 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 the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
"Rest assured, we are a neutral regulator and no matter who the complaint is from and who it is against, we will deal with the matter only as per the law and not under pressure from any organisation or individual." The shooting of a journalist anchoring Pakistan's top political news talk show has sent a chill through the journalistic community weeks after television anchor Raza Rumi was attacked in the city of Lahore. Rumi survived but his driver was shot dead.
Although Pakistani media have become increasingly vibrant in recent years, with stories exposing corruption or injustices appearing frequently on the pages of the country's many dailies, public criticism of the army or the ISI is largely a taboo. No one has claimed responsibility for the recent assaults, although the Taliban, holed up in mountains on the Afghan border, have made repeated threats against domestic and foreign reporters for portraying the insurgency in a negative light. Geo's Islamabad editor, Rana Jawad, said that the media sector would not be easily silenced.
"Obviously they (the army and the ISI) are disturbed about why we repeated suspicions by the journalist who was shot and his family, and now that has led to this attempt to invoke the law and get us off air," Jawad said.
"But this is not Musharraf's era, it won't be that easy to muzzle the media," he said, referring to Pakistan's former military dictator, Pervez Musharraf.
"We don't believe that we did anything to bring disrepute to national security institutions or publicly mock them. That is not possible."