The core members of PMA are established national public media organisations, but we understand the importance of a pluralistic media environment.  For that reason, we also include in our membership national media organisations that have, over many years, demonstrated their commitment to public interest media.

Updated: 25 March 2020

Geo TV in Pakistan is one such broadcaster. Although not publicly funded, for many years the journalists at Geo News have demonstrated their determination to hold power to account, and they have been punished for doing so.

At times such as this, with the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world, we need strong media houses led by experienced journalists. We need media who are prepared to probe government actions and build public trust by asking the questions that will help save lives in the coming weeks and months.

Read more: GEO TV Editor-in-Chief makes urgent appeal to UN over his politically motivated and arbitrary detention

But in Pakistan, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the owner, CEO and Editor in Chief of Geo TV and the Jang Media Group, is himself languishing in a prison cell awaiting court hearings tomorrow [25 March]. His arrest was not related to media issues but to unproven allegations about property transactions way back in 1986.  We understand that the conditions he is being held in are of grave concern, leaving him vulnerable to diseases such as coronavirus.

Commenting on the arrest, a Jang Group spokesperson said:

“In the past 18 months, the NAB sent our reporters, producers and editors, directly and indirectly, over a dozen notices, threatening shutdown of our channels, due to the Jang/ Geo Group’s reporting and its programmes about the NAB. In its defence, the NAB has in writing said that it is a constitutionally-protected institution that can’t be criticised.”

In a statement to the Public Media Alliance, Jang Group Managing Director, Shahrukh Hasan, said:

Imran Khan’s PTI government has taken several measures to browbeat independent media into submission. He has used financial strangulation – suspended advertising, withheld past due payments and cut advertising rates – as well as tried to establish special courts to ‘regulate’ the media. So severe has been the pressure that journalists have started resorting to self censorship. 

In the case of Geo and Jang group particularly, the pressure has been relentless. Given the threats hurled by electronic media regulator PEMRA, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and indeed the Prime Minister himself, some action was inevitable. The arrest of Mr Rahman was still shocking because the charge was so flimsy and the procedure such blatant violation of so many laws.

Pakistan has a complex media environment but as a democracy it needs all of its experienced journalists and media leaders to be free and available to investigate and report on the pandemic.

For this reason, the Public Media Alliance has sent a letter to Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, urging him to release Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman immediately.

You can read the letter in full below: 

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to express the deep concern of the Public Media Alliance [PMA], with regard to the recent arrest of Mir Shakil-ur Rahman, one of Pakistan’s most respected and experienced journalists. We understand that his detainment is with respect to allegations of unproven events in Lahore in 1986.

His arrest and the charges brought by the National Accountability Bureau [NAB] serve only to highlight growing international unease about the state of media freedom in Pakistan. Especially as this recent arrest builds on the many years of pressure on the Jang media Group and Geo TV, previously noted and documented by PMA.

During a global crisis such as the current coronavirus pandemic, it is critical that experienced and independent media houses are able to report on the situation as it evolves and update citizens regarding risks to their health and lives. This is a time when Pakistan needs strong media houses led by experienced and independent journalists.

Instead, since the arrest of Mir Shakil ur Rahmann we have noted increased pressure on Geo TV, with enforced changes to Geo TV’s position on electronic programme guides and in some cases withdrawal of the carriage of Geo News by some cable operators.

We fully endorse the current calls on the United Nations to take immediate action to ensure that the Government of Pakistan and NAB comply with their obligations under international law.

We understand that Mir Shakil-ur- Rahman has been imprisoned in unsafe and unhygienic conditions and without regular and meaningful access to his lawyers. This is of particular concern during the current pandemic. We urge that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman be released immediately.

Sally-Ann Wilson. CEO Public Media Alliance.

Header Image: Geo