The Pakistani media took another body blow on Saturday when the country's premier private news channel, GEO TV, was ordered off the air. At 1 pm Pakistan time Geo News stopped beaming into Pakistani homes.
The management said it was forced to close because the government put tremendous pressure on it to conform, but it had refused to bow down.
Geo TV is owned by the Jang Group, Pakistan's largest media house. The Jang group also owns the fiercely critical English language daily The News.
The News reported on Saturday that President Pervez Musharraf had personally intervened to stop all Geo News transmissions from Dubai, after a two-week standoff in Pakistan during which all major news channels were shut down by cable operators, who are directly controlled by the Pakistani authorities.
The closure of Geo TV comes at a time when many other TV news channels have been allowed back on air by the government. Many of the news channels, including Dawn TV and Aaj TV, were allowed to start broadcasting again after they agreed to the code of conduct proposed by the government.
All news channels had been blocked by the military regime immediately after the imposition of the emergency but on Friday Dawn News and AAJ were back on air, with AAJ, however, announcing that its two most popular talks shows, hosted by Talat Hussain, Nusrat Javeed and Mushtaq Minhas, were suspended temporarily.
Geo News was shut down because it had refused to budge. "After six years of objective and highly-professional telecasts, which earned the channel the honour of being the most popular TV channel, the Government of Pakistan put it off the air on November 4 after emergency was imposed," said a spokesman of the Jang Group.
A senior member of the Jang Group, said that Geo's role in the judicial crisis which started on March 9, when the President filed a reference against the Chief Justice, was highly applauded, both domestically and internationally.
Media sources said that the government first asked the Geo administration to stop the most popular programmes of TV hosts Dr Shahid Masood, Hamid Mir and Kamran Khan without offering any tangible reason why they should be stopped. The media protested against the move and the government had to accept its demands. The shows were allowed to continue but live coverage was banned.
‘Emergency will keep nukes safe’
President Pervez Musharraf, defending his decision to declare emergency rule, has said Pakistan's nuclear weapons will not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands while the military is in control of them.
In a BBC interview broadcast on Saturday Musharraf also said that if elections were held in a "disturbed environment", it could bring in dangerous elements who might endanger Pakistan's "strategic assets".
"They cannot fall into the wrong hands, if we manage ourselves politically. The military is there — as long as the military is there, nothing happens to the strategic assets, we are in charge and nobody does anything with them," he said.