Regulatory body’s show-cause notice follows senior official accusing media group of not highlighting government statements
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority on Friday issued a show-cause notice to the Jang/Geo Group for “airing uni-polarity of views in its bulletins and programs since yesterday (Thursday),” and discussing “under investigation/trial matters barred under PEMRA laws.”
On Thursday, the National Accountability Bureau arrested Mir Shakilur Rehman, the CEO of the Jang/Geo Group, over a land transaction from 1986. It alleged that he had secured illegal concessions from the government to purchase that plot. The arrest has attracted outrage from both within and outside Pakistan, with human rights groups accusing Islamabad of retaliating against Geo for its criticism of the incumbent government’s policies.
In PEMRA’s notification, the government body has directed representatives of Geo to appear before it on March 20 for a “personal hearing” into the matter. It was issued shortly after Special Assistant to the P.M. on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan claimed to journalists that Rehman’s arrest was not an attempt by the government to muzzle media. She claimed media debate on the matter should be avoided and accused Geo of providing a ‘one-sided’ view of the case. She said the media group should also highlight the government’s version.
Shortly after Awan’s press conference concluded, Geo reported that cable operators across the country had started receiving orders to either remove Geo from their offered channels or move it to a different frequency to prevent people from accessing it. Geo News Director (News) Rana Jawad claimed this order was issued by PEMRA, adding that there was no legal justification given for this move. “This is being done at a time when the Editor-in-Chief of the Jang Group/Geo has been arrested by NAB,” he was quoted as saying by Geo. “This [censorship] is a manifestation of the conspiracy to shut down, silence and end media,” he added.
Also on Friday, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Alice G. Wells posted on Twitter that she had “noted with concern the arrest of Mir Shakilur Rehman, the owner of a leading media company in Pakistan.”
She added: “Press freedom, due process, and the rule of law are pillars of every democracy.”