Who Shot Pakistan's Star News Anchor? Some Point To Spy Agency
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Imagine if one of the big TV networks accused the head of the CIA a of attempting to assassinate its main news anchor. Something like that just happened in Pakistan. Today broadcasting regulators there ordered the country's largest TV network off the air for 15 days. NPR's Philip Reeves says this is the latest twist in a battle between the media and the military.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Geo TV's newsroom is bright and busy, yet it's been a frightening few months for the people here. The crisis started when a motorcycle gunman shot Geo's star anchor. Hamid Mir is now recovering from six bullet wounds. Mir's brother blamed Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the ISI and its chief. Geo ran that accusation on air for eight hours before broadcasting the military's denial. The ISI was livid. Geo has been in deep trouble ever since, says Imran Aslam.
IMRAN ASLAM: I think we're under siege.
REEVES: Aslam is president of Geo TV.
ASLAM: There's this palpable fear and a menace that we feel. Our staff is being abused, accused of being traitors and also blasphemers.
REEVES: Cable operators came under pressure to drop Geo. Soon, says Aslam, Geo was off air almost everywhere. Geo's parent company owns Pakistan's biggest urban newspaper, Jang. Jang delivery vans were torched. A senior editor was beaten up. Dozens of journalists have been killed in Pakistan in recent years.
Human rights organizations blame militants and state actors. It's hardly surprising Geo landed in hot water for accusing the national intelligence chief of trying to assassinate a TV celebrity without furnishing any evidence. Geo eventually apologized, describing it's coverage as emotional and misleading. But the threats and violence against the media house continued. Badar Alam, editor of the Herald magazine, says Geo has a record of going after political leaders. Its coverage sometimes oversteps the mark, he says, but it's problems really started when it took on Pakistan's military.
BADAR ALAM: Military being perhaps the most powerful and also the most sensitive institution in Pakistan, they never allow that.
REEVES: Imran Aslam, Geo's president, said his network was seen as challenging what he calls Pakistan's shadowy deep state.
ASLAM: There was a feeling that we were beginning to take back some of the turf that had been occupied by these forces.
REEVES: Today Pakistan's broadcasting regulators suspended Geo from the airwaves for 15 days.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Pakistan. Pakistan.
REEVES: Geo staff protested outside their offices in the city of Karachi. It's not clear if the suspension will end this crisis. Imran Aslam shows no sign of abandoning his mission to call to account Pakistan's shadowy forces.
ASLAM: They say that power of this nature operates in the darkness, always. And when you shine a light on it - it evaporates.
REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Karachi.