Nearly two months ago gunmen launched a brazen attack on Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s most famous and trusted journalists, riddling his car with bullets. Mir survived the assassination attempt, but soon plunged into a storm of controversy after he and his brother accused the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) of the crime. Mir’s employer, Geo television, broadcast the allegation immediately and provided it hours of coverage. Geo subsequently apologized for its unsubstantiated accusations, but the standoff worsened as the military forced cable providers to block Geo, began campaigning against the network and requested that PEMRA, Pakistan’s media regulator, cancel its license. In response Geo sued the Ministry of Defense, the ISI and PEMRA for defamation, to which PEMRA retaliated by blocking the network for two weeks.
This latest episode of the clash between Geo and the military is a landmark event, raising several questions about the drivers of the dispute, why Geo took an aggressive approach in response to the military and the implications of this saga for Pakistan’s young democracy.
Geo’s newfound boldness is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this episode. The network has maintained a simple narrative around the events, framing the issue as a struggle to hold the military and ISI accountable and to uphold press freedoms in Pakistan. In an interview with NPR, Imran Aslam, Geo’s president, said the military was a “deep shadowy state” and claimed his network was being targeted and its employees persecuted because of “a feeling that we were beginning to take back some of the turf that had been occupied by these forces.”