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'Geo News' and Freedom of Expression in Pakistan
“Islam has given to mankind freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom of action but within a correct and reasonable framework, (i.e. whereby one does not harm others or oneself), so that certain foods and drinks, which are very harmful, are not permissible because of the harm they cause to oneself. Likewise slander and assault and the like are not permissible because of the harm they cause to others. In the same way, the overuse of natural resources is not allowed because it causes harm to forthcoming generations." --- Imam Sheerazi

For some oriental scholars, the concept of ‘freedom of speech’ is derived from the Capitalist ideology that is based on the belief that God and religion should be separated from life’s affairs. They call it secularism. Human beings define how to live their lives free of the constraints of religion which is why freedom of individual, ownership, religion and speech are essential cornerstones of Capitalism. The right to speak and what are the limits of speech are therefore all defined by human beings.

In view of the dichotomous currents of thoughts, we have to analyze the non-existent ‘Freedom of Expression’ in most of the Islamic countries especially in Pakistan.

Not long ago, famous Pakistani journalist Sardar Ahmed, his wife and two children were brutally killed by Taleban in Kabul’s Serena Hotel. Journalist in past have suffered death, kidnapping and torture at the hands of militants and there had been hardly any convictions. Courts were refusing to pursue cases and witnesses were killed or failed to turn up. Lawyers refused to help and public was too scared to protest.

Looking into retrospect into the Pakistan’s history, democracy was on oxygen when the first Prime Minister Liaqat Ali of Pakistan was shot to death by hitherto unknown assailants. He was the man of vision for Pakistan who was sowing the seeds of democracy. Though opposed to political thoughts of Gandhi and Nehru, he was a fellow traveler as the train of democracy was about to roll out. He was a young, popular and charismatic ruler. No one knows what really happened.

Let us skip the killing of Zulfi and Benazir, on March 2, 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Minorities was shot and killed. He was an advocate for the reformation of harsh ‘Blasphemy Laws’ that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.  He was on his way to work in Islamabad when unknown gunmen riddled his car with bullets. The bold fanatics of brazen Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing, saying the minister had been “punished” for being a blasphemer. The attackers distributed the leaflets claiming – “This is the punishment of this cursed man.”

In the earlier days of Gen Ayub Khan till the elimination or Gen Zia, there were two forces in Pakistan deciding the destiny of Pakistan in the name of Allah and Shariah: Politicians and Army Generals. The credit goes to Gen Musharraf in whose dictatorship Pakistan Press and Pakistan Judiciary got the breathing space and went from strength to strength. Judiciary finally toppled Musharraf and now he is relaxing surrounded by his four walls of iron as a prisoner of state. It was in the rein of Musharraf that the press in Pakistan began to compete in quality and statement with the free world. The House of  ‘Geo’ was the bold and brave harbinger of the new winds of freedom of expression.

With dozens of newspapers in many languages and more than 30 news channels on TV, there was a new dawn for the news lovers of Pakistan. This public interest was boosting the confidence of journalists and their desire to report the news. In two years, courts, journalists and government convicted six people for the murder Wali Khan Babar, a popular TV reporter in Karachi. It was a time when New Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also promised more freedoms and actions. He assure the journalist fraternity that he would establish public prosecutors in all four provinces and at the federal level to take up cases involving journalists. The government will pursue the courts to bring those cases of murdered journalists to trial. A new commission composed of both journalists and government officials will be set up in order to monitor abuses and there will also be a venue where the press can air their complaints. It seemed that the present Pakistan was now been gearing for four new pillars of State : Government, Armed Forces, Judiciary and Press.

However, this new concept seems to tumbling down now like castles of sand. The Pakistan’s media which had suffered under long bouts of military regimes and ISI has been pushed to wall  to fight back for survival. The latest suspension of the licence of premier news channel, ‘Geo News’ for 15 days and imposition of Pakistani Rs one crore fine is a proof that happy days for press were not there again. It is happening in the background of demands by Mullahs and their followers for Geo to shut down.

The fault or crime of the channel is its accusation of responsibility for the attack on its news anchor Hamid Mir in April on the head of ISI (Inter Services Intelligence). Pakistan Defense Ministry had asked the government to cancel the channel’s licence.

The Jang Media Group is the owner of Geo News. The recalcitrant group has decided to sue both the ISI and PIRMA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) for accusations that it was anti- state. The silver lining is that Military and Government are not to see eye to eye in this interesting saga. Army wants the shut down and the Prime Minister feels that doing so will not be in the interest of Freedom of Expression. Let us keep our fingers crossed.  

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