*ISLAMABAD/KARACHI:* Geo TV has been allowed back on the air at some major cable operators after talks with the military on demands it make changes in political coverage, according to two officials who work for the channel’s media group.
After Geo TV was taken off the air across much of the country at the end of March, military representatives pressed the channel to cease favorable coverage of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and stop any criticism of the Supreme Court and the ‘establishment’, according to the two people, who had knowledge of the negotiations.
Written instructions by Geo management to its staff last week spelled out “key editorial points that we have to manage and implement” to be restored to the airwaves. Besides banning negative portrayals of the ‘establishment’ and any allegations the Supreme Court might be interfering in politics, the instructions said there should be no reports on Nawaz Sharif’s ongoing corruption trial “that helps build a narrative that he and his children are innocent.”
The two sources, employees of the Jang Group of Newspapers, said the company had reluctantly agreed to most of the military’s demands, although there was no final deal confirmed and the situation was in flux. “As for the deal or tough conditions, we are following them and Geo has been restored. That restoration is the result of obeying those dictations,” one of the sources said.
Geo TV Network President Imran Aslam declined to answer questions about any military involvement in the shutdown or whether any deal had been made or was in the works. A Geo spokesperson said in a statement, “Geo will always strive to provide both sides of the story and an independent editorial policy for which it has suffered in every regime, military and civilian.If we ever surrender on that independence we would rather shut down the channel ourselves.”
The military’s press office did not respond to written questions and phone calls about whether it had pressured the cable operators. It also did not comment on the allegations that the military, or the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), made demands on Geo to alter its coverage or secured agreement to make any changes.
Three major cable operators, who spoke on condition of anonymity, earlier said they had pulled the channel from their rosters after direct instructions from unidentified military officers.
When interviewed, three cable operators said they were pressured to take the channel off the air at the end of March while others declined to comment.
Five of the Geo insiders said they knew the widespread cable blackout was a result of military pressure. However, only two were willing to talk about the conditions laid out by military officials to Geo for restoring the channels, and they said they were doing so against direct orders from the company’s owner.
One executive at a leading cable company that covers more than a million households in Pakistan said he received a telephone call at the end of March from a senior officer in the ISI telling him to take Geo TV off their roster. There was never any question of refusing the order, he said.
A second cable executive said his company shut down Geo broadcasts after receiving a telephone call. Asked who made the call, he said, “I can’t say the name, you know, big brother, the boots.”
The military has declined to comment on all the allegations made by the cable operators.
Minister of State for Interior Talal Chaudhry criticized the move against Geo . “It’s very unfortunate that behind many actions in Pakistan there are hidden hands, secret hands,” he said in response to a question about the military’s possible role in Geo’s trouble. He did not elaborate further.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said in a statement that it had not ordered any channel to be taken off air and that the “closure of any licensed channel is against … its laws.”