(Updates with media regulator's statement)
By Mehreen Zahra-Malik
ISLAMABAD, June 6 Pakistani television channel
Geo News is suing the powerful spy agency for defamation over
accusations of being anti-state, it said on Friday, in a move
unprecedented in a country where public criticism of the
military is taboo.
In the latest twist in a saga that has captivated the
country, Pakistan's media regulator also suspended Geo for 15
days for reporting that the ISI spy agency was behind the April
shooting of one of Pakistan's most famous journalists.
"Geo and Jang Group (have) served legal notice on the
Ministry of Defence, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) for
defaming and maligning the group," the channel said in a report
published in a newspaper owned by its parent company.
"More than 8,000 journalists, workers and professionals
attached to the group and their families are not only being
harassed but also attacked and tortured across Pakistan."
Geo News has also given the ISI 14 days to retract its
accusations and issue a public apology.
The standoff over Geo, part of the privately owned Jang
Group, has exposed divisions between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
and the army which has ruled the country for more than half of
The military has long seen the government's resistance to
efforts to shut Geo News as a sign of defiance and PEMRA's
latest move is seen as a compromise solution after weeks of
In April, Pakistan's Defence Ministry had demanded that the
licence of Geo News be suspended after it reported that the ISI
was behind the shooting of one of Pakistan's most famous
The PEMRA media regulator said in a statement on Friday it
had formally shut down Geo News for 15 days and imposed a
"The authority...took a strong notice of violations
committed by Geo News and unanimously decided to immediately
suspend the licence of the said channel for a period of 15 days
besides imposing a fine of Rs10 million," the regulator
announced in a statement.
But even before the PEMRA order, the channel had been taken
off the air in several parts of the country since the dispute
began, allegedly under army pressure, according to its lawsuit.
Distribution of the parent group's newspapers has also been
Last month, the channel apologised for the allegations
against the ISI but temperatures have failed to cool.
A spokesman for the military was not immediately available
April's shooting of Hamid Mir, a journalist anchoring
Pakistan's top political news talk show, sent a chill through
the media community weeks after television anchor Raza Rumi was
attacked in the city of Lahore. Rumi survived but his driver was
Although Pakistani media have become increasingly vibrant in
recent years, with stories exposing corruption or injustices
appearing frequently on the pages of the country's many dailies,
public criticism of the army or the ISI is largely taboo.
No one has claimed responsibility for the recent assaults,
although the Taliban, holed up in mountains on the Afghan
border, have made repeated threats against domestic and foreign
reporters for portraying the insurgency in a negative light.
(Editing by Maria Golovnina and Nick Macfie)