The Public Media Alliance is deeply concerned by the pressure faced by independent and public interest media in Pakistan and condemns escalating threats to journalist safety.

On 31 May, prominent broadcaster and journalist Hamid Mir was suspended from hosting his popular daily current affairs programme, ‘Capital Talk’, on Geo News. According to Mir, he was placed on immediate leave by Geo management following a speech he made at a protest on 28 May about a violent attack on journalist Asad Ali Toor.

Mir also condemned the ongoing threats to journalist safety in Pakistan, the attempts by authorities to clamp down on media freedom and specifically called for those responsible for Toor’s attack to be held to account. Mir has also faced bans and violent attacks in the past.

A number of press freedom and human rights organisations in Pakistan are questioning whether the decision to ban Mir from his show came from within Geo’s administration, or whether the organisation was put under pressure from the Government. The latter would hint at yet another form of silencing critical voices and clamping down on freedom of expression. They are calling for Mir to be reinstated.

Earlier this week, Geo and Jang Group published a statement highlighting that Mir’s speech caused backlash from “different segments of society”, including its own organisations. The statement also reminded its audiences that ‘…Geo and Jang Group were shut down, our journalists were beaten up as they faced hundreds of fake allegations of corruption, blasphemy and traitorhood, shot at, financially strangulated more than any other media organisation in the country. The organisation has lost more than Rs10 billion to keep viewers and readers informed.’

They added that while ‘The anger, disappointment and frustration that Hamid Mir and other journalists feel on fellow colleagues being attacked is a shared and grave concern’, there are ‘better ways and means on how to channel that energy for productive gains for the safety of journalism and journalists…’ A temporary host has taken over from Mir.

The Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting denied any involvement in Geo’s decision and claims that attacks on journalists have “reduced” in Pakistan since Imran Khan became Prime Minister.

Other reports disprove this. The treatment of Mir is the most recent incident in a long line of multi-pronged media freedom violations in the country. Arbitrary arrests, hate speech and online abuse is on the rise. Last year, Mir Shakil-ur Rahman (MSR), Editor-in-Chief of the Geo and Jang Media group, was detained for more than 200 days, which was related to a land purchase more than 30 years ago.

Read more: PMA calls for the immediate release of Pakistan editor and media owner

The Government of Pakistan has also recently proposed a new piece of legislation, the Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance 2021. Under the Ordinance, an Authority would be set up to regulate all forms of media including digital media such as YouTube and Netflix; issue and renew licences, and deal with complaints. The 11-member body would be appointed by the President of Pakistan.

Opposition parties and press unions are opposing the proposal over fears that editorial freedoms would be significantly impacted, and that the Authority’s powers would normalise censorship.

Read more: Explainer: What is the govt’s proposed media authority and why has it invited criticism?

Header image: Hand with microphone tied with rope, depicting the idea of freedom of the press, idea of the repression of the mass media or freedom of expression. Credit: natasaadzic/iStock