Geo TV's fight against Pakistan intelligence agencies has led to its journalists being labelled traitors
ISLAMABAD - With the stand-off between Pakistan’s powerful army and the country’s top TV channel Geo brewing with every passing day, some 8,000 employees of the Geo group across the country fear being attacked, not by the irked security agencies but by ordinary citizens on the streets, following the popular portrayal of them as "traitors."
Many employees of Geo TV, and its affiliates Jang, and The News daily newspapers have complained to their management that they are being chased, and threatened -- through phone calls and letters -- by "unknown persons" since April 19, the day one of the country’s most famous journalists Hamid Mir was attacked in the southern port city of Karachi.
Mir’s family along with others heaps the blame on the country’s powerful spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which, according to Geo management, was not happy with the journalist for giving “too much” coverage to the simmering "missing persons" issue. Security forces have been blamed over the disappearance of the hundreds of people in southwestern Baluchistan.
In return, the defense ministry asked Pakistan's media regulators on April 22 to cancel Geo’s broadcast license for “tarnishing the image of the army and the ISI.”
Reporters without Borders said it was "outraged" by the move to cancel Geo TV's license. The organization ranks Pakistan 158 out of 180 countries for press freedom and calls Pakistan's intelligence services "predators of press freedom" because of their suspected role in the killing and abduction of journalists.
Scores of political, religious and social organizations have been holding protests against Geo TV across the country demanding a “ban” on the channel, who they accuse of towing an Indian and Western agenda aimed at smearing the army and the ISI.
Effigies of Hamid Mir -- who was shot six times -- the owner of Geo TV, and other anchors are being burned by protesters in the streets. The channel is already blocked in all military districts, known as cantonments, of the country.
A number of Geo employees have removed the orange and white company logo, which they used to proudly display, from their vehicles, bags and homes -- no longer wanting to be identified as working for the channel.
"We do not carry our (Geo) logo any more while covering the public meetings to avoid any backlash of the ongoing situation," Jawwad Hussein, a Geo TV reporter, told the Anadolu Agency.
A Geo TV team escaped an attack from the angry workers of a sectarian party while covering its public meeting in Karachi last week, forcing the channel employees to stay low profile in public.
Geo management has already sent a letter to the army chief, and heads of other security agencies informing them that its employees, including female staff, reporters, contributors, and even distributors (of print dailies) are being chased, harassed, and threatened since Mir's shooting.
Not only the army and the ISI, but rival TV channels too have joined anti-Geo campaign and have been airing inciting talk shows and discussions demanding the government to immediately ban the TV channel for "attacking" the army and the ISI at the behest of India and the West.
"I feel scared. I feel that I can be attacked someday as people are openly calling us (Geo employees) traitors," a frightened Jawwad said. "I had received a call from an undisclosed number warning me to either leave Geo or get ready for dire consequences."
Umer Cheema, a senior investigative reporter working for Geo and its English daily The News, received the same threats.
"I too received a letter threatening me to get ready for consequences as, according to the writer, I am a traitor," said Cheema, who was abducted and tortured by "unknown persons" in 2011 in Islamabad. Cheema held the secret agencies responsible for his experience as, according to him, a story about undue protocol enjoyed by then army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, irked the secret agencies.
"This is very much understandable if our reporters are feeling scared and threatened. There is no government or private authority that could stop our rivals from declaring us traitors," he said. "This may lead to violence against me and my colleagues someday."
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