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Pakistan TV network Geo on the brink

Pakistan's biggest private TV network, Geo, may get its licences cancelled after alleging the country's intelligence agency was involved in an assassination attempt on its journalist. The allegation has prompted 90 per cent of Pakistan's cable operators to pull the network off-air.

LAHORE: Pakistan's biggest private TV network, Geo, may get its licences cancelled after alleging the country's intelligence agency was involved in an assassination attempt on its journalist. The allegation has prompted 90 per cent of Pakistan's cable operators to pull the network off-air.

Geo is Pakistan's most highly-rated private channel, but its controversial ways have landed it in serious trouble.

The latest scandal broke after one of its morning shows played a religious song during an interview with an actress, leading many to accuse the network of blasphemy.

Geo and its employees have received scores of threats over the incident.

Shehryar Warraich, a reporter at Geo, said: "We are not even safe in our offices because we receive threatening calls from different religious parties, even banned organisations. So our office security has been tightened and we cannot even carry our logo if we cover any public procession or public events."

The public, increasingly angry with Geo's coverage, have held almost daily protests.

Some members of Pakistan's Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) have decided to suspend Geo's licences. PEMRA's final decision will be made at the end of the month, but 90 per cent of cable operators in Pakistan have already stopped showing Geo channels.

This after Geo had alleged that Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, was involved in attempts to assassinate its senior journalist Hamid Mir.

This is not the first time that Geo has become involved in a controversy leading to its broadcast suspension. In 2007, when military dictator Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in Pakistan, he closed down all private television networks in the country. However, Geo continued to operate from Dubai.

Some officials feel that taking Geo off-air will not resolve anything.

Rana Sanaullah, a Punjab Law Minister, said: "I think closure is not the answer to this problem. Closure will further aggravate and complicate this issue because this type of mistakes can happen with anyone."

The Council of Pakistan Press Clubs has denounced the suspension of Geo's licences, saying it threatens media freedoms in Pakistan. Some have also raised the negative consequences the ban could have.

Mian Shahbaz , a media analyst, said: "If any one media house or channel gets banned in Pakistan, then thousand of people will be unemployed. This will impact the media industry, especially working journalists.

"The 12-year boom of the Pakistani electronic media industry will come to an end and this will negatively impact Pakistan and its democracy."

Media experts said the incident has highlighted the need for a legal framework to regulate news content in Pakistan. Till then, Geo TV will have to wait till May 28 to find out its fate.

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