Islamabad: Pakistan on Friday suspended the licence of Geo News for 15 days for defaming the army and the powerful ISI, a day after the leading television channel decided to sue authorities for maligning its image and demanded a public apology and Rs 50 billion as damages.
The suspension of the licence of Geo News was announced by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) after a meeting chaired by its chief Parvez Rathore. It also asked the channel to pay Rs 10 million as fine.
"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 license of the said channel for a period of 15 days besides imposing a fine of Rs 10 million, to be paid before the expiry of the suspension period," PEMRA said in a statement.
"In case of non-payment of fine, the suspension of the license shall continue. The authority further decided that in case of repeated violation by the said licensee, proceedings for the revocation of the license shall be initiated," it further said.
The meeting was held to address a complaint filed by Ministry of Defence against Geo News for naming Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and its chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam for attack on leading journalist Hamid Mir, who was seriously injured in a gun attack in April.
The Defence ministry had demanded that the licence of Geo News be suspended after it reported that the ISI was behind the attack on Mir in Karachi.
The controversy erupted after Mir's brother accused "certain elements" in the ISI and its chief of orchestrating the attack, a charge denied by the military.
Geo TV network and Jang Group, which owns the channel, on May 26 had tendered apology to Pakistan's armed forces and the ISI for hurling allegations on its chief over the assassination attempt on Mir.
The move to suspend channel's licence came a day after Geo and Jang Group served a legal notice on the Ministry of Defence, the ISI and PEMRA for defaming and maligning the group by accusing it of working on an anti-Pakistan agenda, inciting and fuelling violence against the group, pressuring cable operators to black out Geo channels. It has asked all to publicly apologise within 14 days and pay damages of Rs 50 billion.
In its legal notice, the group has alleged that because of the uncalled for, baseless allegations of being traitors and furthering an anti-Pakistan agenda, 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.
The channel said that on April 19 Mir was attacked in Karachi. In the environment of extreme tension and under tremendous pressure of the family of Mir, the channel broadcast a statement of Mir's brother, Amir.
Subsequently, ISI sent a complaint to the Ministry of Defence which without even providing any evidence/proof, contained baseless and untrue allegations that "Geo Network has a history of acting illegally in furtherance of anti-Pakistan agenda", the notice said.
Earlier too, the Jang Group had clarified that the allegations were not hurled by the institution but by Mir himself and later repeated by his brother soon after the attack. The lawyers of the group said the group shall initiate appropriate legal proceedings against all of them in a court of competent jurisdiction for direct damage if they failed to respond.