Rights Commission says station faces undue intimidation
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has voiced concern over a “malicious campaign” seeking to close down prominent TV channel Geo TV. It has called for unity among media organizations and a de-escalation of the situation to protect media freedom and reduce risks for journalists.
“HRCP can no longer stay silent on the malicious campaign unleashed against Geo and the manner in which pressure is being brought to bear to close down the channel,” said HRCP Chairperson Zohra Yusuf, in a press statement.
Geo TV has been accused of blasphemy for playing a religious song during the mock wedding of actress Veena Malik in a morning show last Wednesday. Although the channel and show’s host Dr Shaista Lodhi tendered apologies for the unintended mistake, protests orchestrated by various Islamist parties have been carried out across Pakistan.
Sunni Ittehad Council, an umbrella group of religious parties, issued a decree, declaring that watching Geo TV was a sin. A petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking to take legal action against channel owner Mir Shakil ur Rehman, host Dr Shaisti Lodhi, Veena Malik and her husband Asad Khattak.
Islamabad police also registered a case against the channel's owner under blasphemy and anti-terrorism laws after a court order was issued.
Geo TV has since removed logos, images and advertisements from its broadcasts and vehicles due to fear of mob attacks.
“Irrespective of what HRCP or anyone else might think about Geo’s editorial judgment, instigating people to come out on the street following charges of blasphemy is an extremely dangerous trend," said the HRCP statement.
“The environment of fear that has been created is making the lives of journalists working for Geo extremely vulnerable. They are being intimidated and a large number of them have faced attacks," said the statement, adding that the situation could "escalate" and "spin out of control".
“Divisions among the media ranks do not augur well for the hard-won freedom that the media has. It is regrettable that competitive media houses are adding fuel to the fire," said the HRCP. "It is in no one’s interest to unleash forces that are neither accountable nor answerable to anyone.”
“HRCP is curious how cable operators have illegally banned Geo without instructions from Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) and expects that the authorities would investigate this matter, if they have not done so already, and punish those acting out of bounds.”
On Sunday, Cable Operators Association (CAO) head Khalid Arayeen said that he supported the fatwa, after which Geo TV was taken off air in many cities.
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