Geo TV ’s channels have been blocked throughout most of Pakistan, including Lahore and Karachi, since the start of April. According to the network’s CEO, Ibrahim Rahman, the channels are off the air in 80% of the country.
The Pakistani government has denied responsibility for blocking Geo TV. So has the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which issued a statement on 2 April instructing cable operators to restore the network’s channels.
All eyes are turned on the Pakistani military, whose activities often receive critical coverage by Geo TV. The military control cable networks in all districts and therefore effectively control Geo TV’s distribution, which had already been blocked in military garrisons and military residential areas since early March.
Two armed men meanwhile tried to break into Geo News presenter Saleem Safi’s home in Islamabad on 4 April, attacking the security guard who stopped them. The attack came shortly after Safi posted an article on the Jang news website (owned by the same media group as Geo TV) in which he accused the military of trying to influence the general elections in mid-2018.
“The round-the-clock blocking of Geo TV and the attack on one of its journalists constitute yet new evidence, if any were needed, of the Pakistani’s military’s complete ascendancy over the country’s civilian authorities,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“With just months to go to general elections, the military high command must give clear signs of support for the media freedom needed for democratic debate, starting with the restoration of Geo TV’s channels. If independent journalism is not respected, Pakistan will no longer be able to enjoy media pluralism and will inevitably sink back into a hardline military dictatorship of the purest kind.”
This is not the first time that Geo TV has been blocked. The news channel was suspended in June 2014 after one of its presenters publicly blamed the intelligence services for a shooting attack in which he was badly injured.
Pakistan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.