Pakistan must stop censoring TV commentator Hamid Mir, RSF says
Nine months after leading Pakistani TV journalist and commentator Hamid Mir was forced off the air, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its local partner, Freedom Network Pakistan (FNPK), urge the government to end its silence about this censorship and tell Geo News he can resume hosting his show.
Pakistani citizens were deprived of one of their most popular commentators on 28 May 2021, when the management of the TV news channel Geo News decided to suspend Hamid Mir, who had been hosting its political talk show Capital Talk for nearly 19 years.
The decision was prompted by Mir’s comments earlier that day at a protest in support of Asad Ali Toor, a journalist who had been beaten and tortured inside his apartment three days before. Mir dared to cross a red line by referring to the role of the “agencies” in this violence – a euphemism for Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, above all the feared military intelligence agency known as Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Referring openly to the control that the ISI and its ramifications within the military establishment unofficially exercise over entire swathes of Pakistani society and even within the civilian government is a taboo in Pakistan. To question this control means exposing oneself to the worst reprisals. This was why Geo News felt it had to disassociate itself from Mir.
“In his comments, Hamid Mir courageously kept alive the flame of democracy and pluralism in Pakistan, and his disappearance from the airwaves has lifted the veil on the huge pressures to which Pakistani journalists and their editors are subjected,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We urge the government to intercede so that Hamid Mir can resume expressing his views, or else this latest evidence of the prime minister’s contempt for press freedom will be a millstone around his neck at next year’s general elections.”
Freedom Network executive director Iqbal Khattak added: “The continuing unannounced ban on Hamid Mir is a living case study of the depth to which enforced censorship has taken root in Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan must break his silence and take steps to honour his commitment to respect press freedom. The longer Hamid Mir is kept off the TV screens, the longer citizens’ right to know will be compromised. This situation must be brought to an end without delay.”
This is not the first time that Mir has been subjected to censorship. He has been fired twice, first as a young reporter in 1994 and then in 1997 as the Daily Pakistan’s editor for publishing articles linking leading politicians to corruption. His TV channel, Geo News, was the target of an intimidation campaign after he openly accused the ISI of being behind a murder attempt in 2014 in which he was shot six times.
Mir has received many international awards for his journalism and is a member of the jury that chooses RSF’s three Press Freedom Prize winners every year.
Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.