New Delhi: Pakistan's Geo TV has been forced off the air by cable operators in most parts of the country for allegedly siding with political forces that are trying to assert themselves against the military’s hegemony.
The channel says it is an attempt to force the media organisation into submission.
Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the incumbent government did not order the suspension of the channel, but he failed to explain why the channel faces a blackout across the country.
"Pakistan's constitution and law[s] guarantee the fundamental right of access to information to the citizens of Pakistan," a statement reads on Geo TV's website.
Geo TV, in a tweet, urged viewers to lodge complaints if they cannot watch Geo News on their TV screens.
If viewers/readers cannot watch Geo News on their TV screens or if our channels have somehow been shifted from their original numbers, or if they are deprived of receiving their copies of Daily Jang or/and The News, they can lodge complaints at telephone number: 021-32271133 pic.twitter.com/ErTiAx7doo— Geo English (@geonews_english) March 5, 2018
Pakistan's media regulatory authority (PEMRA) has taken notice of the Geo TV suspension and clarified that it "has not issued orders to close down any channel or change its position."
"The shutting down of any licensed channel is the violation of PEMRA laws. The authority has suspended the licenses of [cable operators] Wateen Multimedia Lahore, World Call Cable, Lahore and Karachi, warning if Geo's channels were not restored, their licenses would be cancelled," the statement said.
International and national journalist bodies condemned the illegal suspension of the Geo News transmission, saying that gagging of media is direct assault on freedom of speech and access to information which is guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concern over reports that Geo TV is not accessible throughout parts of the country, including Karachi, Lahore, and Multan, despite government assertions that authorities have taken no steps to block it.
"It's outrageous that authorities are either unable to find or too frightened to name those powerful enough to orchestrate the blocking of news distribution,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler.
In the past, both Geo TV and its mother organisation, Jang media group, were close to the country’s powerful security establishment, but the channel has become increasingly critical of the military in the past few years.
Analysts say, the latest tug-of-war between Geo TV and the military is about the former's "support" to deposed PM Sharif, who has challenged both the army generals and top judiciary in the past few years.
In 2014, Hamid Mir, a renowned Geo TV anchor and journalist, was shot in Karachi, after which he accused the military's Inter-Services Intelligence agency behind the assassination attempt. Geo TV publicly endorsed the journalist's claims while the military denied any involvement in the attack on Mir.