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Pakistani military pushes to block network of Hamid Mir, anchor shot by attackers

By Greg Botelho and Sophia Saifi, CNN
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)
Pakistani journalist and television anchor Hamid Mir in November 2012.
Pakistani journalist and television anchor Hamid Mir in November 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Geo News anchor Hamid Mir was wounded last Saturday by gunmen in Karachi
  • His brother told Geo that Pakistan's spy agency may have targeted Hamid Mir
  • The military asks for Geo to possibly lose its license over this "malicious" report
  • Geo, news media advocates strongly counter this claim

(CNN) -- Pakistan's military is pushing to black out a national news station, calling its citing of a man tying government agents to the attempted assassination of his brother -- a prominent TV news anchor -- "false, malicious and irresponsible reporting."

Already Wednesday night, multiple people said Geo News was suddenly unavailable in large swaths of Peshawar, parts of Quetta and in military barracks in both cities. On its website, Geo News -- a CNN affiliate -- reported similar blackouts in Okara, Murree and Dera Ghazi Khan as well.

And that could be just the beginning.

The director general of ISI, Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, formally complained to the nation's military about Geo's coverage after an attack on one of its anchors, Hamid Mir. The defense ministry then asked the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to act against Geo News, including possibly suspending and ultimately canceling its license to broadcast.

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Hamid Mir was shot three times Saturday in Karachi by gunmen in a car and on two motorcycles near Karachi's airport, his network reported. He is now recovering after undergoing what his doctor described as a successful operation.

The government condemned this attack while also sharply criticizing Geo News' subsequent reporting of the account of Mir's brother Amir, who is a journalist himself. Amir Mir said his brother believed ISI and specifically its leader, Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam, had plans to assassinate him.

The defense ministry's complaint -- as cited by the Pakistan Press Foundation -- accuses Geo News of waging "a vicious campaign ... wherein false accusations were made against a state institution tasked to work for the defense, sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan." This telecast tried to tarnish state agency's image by "falsely linking it with ... terrorist outfits/activities," the complaint said.

"(This) false, malicious and irresponsible reporting is a continuation of the policy of Geo Network for maligning the state institutions," added the complaint.

Geo has strongly defended itself against these allegations, in addition to citing other journalists and ordinary Pakistanis who likewise have rallied to its side.

Benjamin Ismail, the head of Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk, said the interview with Hamid Mir's brother "does not constitute an offense" and noted that Pakistani authorities "are perfectly free to address the suspicions against them. His group ranks Pakistan 158th out of 180 countries on its latest World Press Freedom Index.

And Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, urged the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority not to act against Geo News based on what he called "a spurious complaint."

"We call on Pakistan's security services to recognize the critical role of the media and exercise tolerance and maturity," Dietz said in a statement. "The ISI is free to rebut allegations in the media but should not try to censor coverage."

In an earlier statement, Dietz had called the targeting of Mir "an indicator that the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has not been able to reverse the country's appalling record of violence against journalists, despite pledges to do so."

A former newspaper reporter and editor, Hamid Mir writes columns and hosts a political talk show on Geo News. His guests have included members of Pakistan's ruling government and the opposition. Mir is also writing a book on Osama bin Laden, the late al Qaeda leader whose escape from the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan he extensively reported on.

Two Pakistani governments -- once in 2007 and again in 2008 -- banned him from appearing on Pakistani television.

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Journalists Syed Ali Shah in Quetta, Pakistan, and Zahir Shah Sherazi in Peshawar contributed to this report.

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