Zardari Pulls GEO News Off Air in Pakistan’s Major Cities

Broadcasts of GEO News has been shut down in areas of Pakistan’s major cities, including: Gujranwala, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Quetta, and Sargodha.

Update: 12:58PM (New York) — Aaj TV reports that its channel number has also been changed in a number of cities in Pakistan.

[Click here to watch GEO live]

This is clearly due to pressure from the federal government on local cable providers.

GEO News has taken a critical stance of Asif Zardari and other leading PPP officials.  The station has broadcast public service announcements from a foundation affiliated with its owner containing sound bites from leading PPP officials in favor of the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.  These officials, such as Law Minister Farooq Naik, now oppose Iftikhar’s restoration.

Also, GEO News adds that some cable operators have been ordered to put the station as the last channel available so viewers are unable to find it.  If this has been done to your cable service, then all you need to do is go to channel 1 and press the up button, instead of scrolling down the dozens of channels you have.

The move sheds light on the Pakistani government’s new strategy toward the Long March.  Earlier, there were false leaks of a deal between the PPP and PML-N.  The intent of these leaks were to confuse the public (fooled me!), create a divide between the PML-N and the Lawyers Movement, and take the air out of the Long March.

Targeting GEO’s transmissions in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, in particular, is designed to further the confusion and prevent information sharing regarding the Long March, which is scheduled to go arrive in Islamabad on Monday.

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Breaking News: Musharraf forces GEO News shutdown

At the behest of Pervez Musharraf, the Dubai government has ordered the GEO News channel to shut down at 3PM EST. The GEO Television Network’s other three channels will continue to broadcast, but are forbidden from airing public affairs programs and breaking news.

The GEO Television Network, consisting of Pakistan’s most popular channels, transmits out of Dubai’s Media City. The move by the Dubai government predominantly impacts GEO’s international satellite viewers; the Pakistani government has already pressured cable providers in the country to stop airing GEO Network channels.

GEO News and its competitor ARY One World have resisted governmental pressure to accept censorship. The action against GEO News raises the question: Will ARY One World be next, or will they make a deal with Musharraf?

Today’s shutdown of GEO News is the latest of Musharraf’s attempts to intimidate and control GEO and its owner, the Jang Group. Last week, senior Jang Group figures received threats from individuals purportedly from a Taliban outfit — strange, since the president of Pakistan has described the country’s independent media as abetting militants. Around the same time, Pakistani government officials also attempted to shut down the publishing presses of the Jang Group’s newspapers, The News and Jang. Back in May, the offices of GEO News and another channel, AAJ Television, were also attacked by individuals suspected to be working for Musharraf’s government.

Musharraf’s greatest advantage over the media is time. The longer they are off the airwaves in Pakistan, the more public and private advertising dollars they lose. As a result, smaller networks have conceded to Musharraf’s demands in recent days. Both DawnNews and AAJ Television have returned to Pakistani airwaves. The latter channel has agreed to not air its leading public affairs programs, Live with Talat and Bolta Pakistan.

As of today, DawnNews has been featuring political advertisements promoting Chaudhry Pervez Ellahi — chief minister of Punjab, cousin of PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Musharraf ally, and potential prime ministerial candidate. The advertisements promote Ellahi and Musharraf and are done in the name of the government of Punjab — clearly a violation of the election code of conduct released by Pakistan’s Election Commission prior to emergency rule.

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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