Pakistan has suspended the licence of its premier news channel, Geo News, for 15 days and imposed a Rs. 1-crore fine, at a time when the channel's detractors had demanded for it to be shut down.
On Friday, broadcast media regulator Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) announced its decision.
The controversy erupted after the channel accused the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of being responsible for the attack on its news anchor Hamid Mir in April. Mir and Geo channel had accused the ISI chief of being responsible for the attack. The ISI moved to have the channel shut down.
Friday's ruling follows a petition filed by Pakistan's defence ministry that asks for the channel's licence to be cancelled.
The Jang Media Group, which owns Geo TV, has been under attack ever since Mir's on-air accusations.
Geo announced on Friday it would sue both ISI and PEMRA for accusations that it was anti-state. A report in its publication, The News, said Jang had served a legal notice to the Ministry of Defence, the ISI and PEMRA for accusing it of working for an anti-Pakistan agenda, inciting and fuelling violence against the group and pressurising cable operators to black out the channel.
It also said PEMRA failed to implement a Supreme Court order to restore Geo channel. The group asked for a public apology within 14 days and damages of Rs. 50 billion. "There is more to this than meets the eye," said Shireen Mazari, spokesperson for Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Mazari said PEMRA was pressurised into giving a lenient ruling.
The larger picture, observers said, is the tension between the military and the government of PM Nawaz Sharif. While army chief General Raheel Sharif has been demanding to shut down the channel, Nawaz Sharif insisted that doing so will send out the wrong message on media freedom.