Pakistan: Media House Under ISI Attack
April 23, 2014
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
Pakistan: Media house under ISI attack
The tension between Pakistan’s military and a large section of the country's media has escalated following the assassination attempt on Geo TV anchor Hamid Mir. On the complaint of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Defence Ministry has directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to take action against Geo TV network for levelling allegations against the ISI.
Mir, travelling in his car in Karachi, was shot by assailants riding motorcycles on April 19. Severely wounded, Mir is currently in hospital. His employer, Geo TV, has broadcasted accusations that the intelligence chief was involved in the attempted murder. For details, click here.
According to media reports that quote “official sources”, an application from the Ministry of Defence has been submitted to the country's media regulator under Sections 33 and 36 of the PEMRA Ordinance, 2002. This submission followed the approval of the Pakistani Minister of Defence, Khawaja Muhammad Asif.
The application seeks legal action against Geo TV management for framing allegations against the ISI and its head, Director General Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam. According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Defence, the ministry has provided PEMRA with evidence indicating the media group’s involvement in tarnishing the image of the intelligence agency. The statement promises action against the channel’s editorial and management team. “All those who are involved in the mala fide broadcast, riddled with baseless allegations, will be taken to task,” reads the statement.
In the immediate aftermath of the failed assassination, the younger brother of Hamid Mir and his family members blamed the ISI and its chief for the attack. Mir's brother quoted a statement that Mir had submitted to the Prime Minister and his management, where Mir had said that any harm to his person would be the responsibility of the ISI. In addition, Mir had sent an electronic mail to the Geo management on February 25 and mentioned that the ISI chief had threatened him in the midst of an informal meeting with journalists. Mir had quickly rushed to the Prime Minister’s office to provide information about this threat.
Since the attack, Geo TV has also broadcast the image of General Islam as an accused. This has been held by the military establishment to be an insult to the country. The Director General of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) has warned that anyone blaming the institution (army) will be subject to strong action.
After witnessing strident reactions of journalist organisations and media houses on the role of the ISI in the attack on Mir, the military establishment has come out in full support of the intelligence agency and its chief, terming the media response as an attack on country and its sacred institution. Army officials have been contacting different media houses and pressuring them to support the army and its different institutions, particularly the ISI. As a part of this campaign, retired servicemen have been appearing on different talk shows, where they make open threats that if anyone maligns the armed forces or their intelligence agencies they will be dealt with “properly”.
The Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, has recently visited ISI headquarters, where General Islam has welcomed him and been briefed about the “malicious campaign” from a section of the media against ISI. General Raheel has extended solidarity with the ISI, stating that such designs can be handled properly and that legal action must be taken against the particular media house.
The attack on Mir has generated a big debate about the working of intelligence agencies in Pakistan and the army has felt a sense of devaluation and embarrassment at being treated at par with an ordinary journalist. The debate has also traversed other areas embarrassing to the military and intelligence. These include involvement of intelligence agencies in the murder of political activists, in operations in Balochistan, in disappearances, and in extrajudicial killings. To stop debate on such sticky issues, the army has decided to try and ban Geo TV by cancelling its license.
Geo TV happens to be a part of the Independent Publication Group which runs a daily Urdu newspaper, Jang, English daily news, several magazines, and other channels.
PEMRA, which the Defence Ministry has approached to take action against GEO TV, is the regulatory body assigned to monitor broadcasts. PEMRA is an incomplete organisation; it does not have a chairperson and is also missing other executive officers presently. It is operating with three officers, and its acting chairperson is a retired police officer. It will be easy for the ISI to obtain a decision in its favour from such a body.
The Defence Ministry also intends to stop Geo TV and Mir's family members from filing a criminal case against the ISI chief. No police complaint has yet been filed by Mir's family members or by Geo TV. If the name of ISI chief ends up in a police First Information Report (FIR) he will have to go through a police investigation and may also have to resign from his position, something which will not be tolerated by the army.
In addition, it is important to note that Pakistani intelligence agencies are not formed under any law. Being involved in such a case will create legal problem for the ISI, and bring it to a legal limelight not in its opaque interests.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has shown concern over the ISI Directorate's actions against Geo Television. CPJ has stated in its complaint to PEMRA that the ISI has accused Geo’s parent company, Independent Media Corporation, of conducting a “false and scandalous campaign undermining the integrity and tarnishing the image of state institution (ISI) and its officers.”
“We call on the Pemra not to act on this spurious complaint, and we call on Pakistan’s security services to recognise the critical role of the media and exercise tolerance and maturity,” Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator has stated. “The ISI is free to rebut allegations in the media but should not try to censor coverage”, CPJ has stated.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemns the actions of Ministry of Defence and the ISI to seek to cancel the license of a big and influential media house and strangle the freedom of expression. The AHRC supports freedom of expression in Pakistan, for the health of its society and as a check on the impunity, non-transparency, and criminality of individuals nestled within agencies of the state.
The Defence Ministry only wishes to punish the media as a whole in the guise of national security. The Ministry and PEMRA must desist from action prompted by organisations which do not have any role other than that of protecting the country. If Geo TV's license were to be revoked for airing opinion it will be tantamount to direct interference of the armed forces and its intelligence agencies in the freedom of press and expression. The AHRC stands with the civil society of Pakistan in resisting the nefarious designs of the armed forces.