New York, July 21, 2019 — Pakistan’s most popular news channel, the privately owned Geo News broadcaster, has been forced off the air or had its channel number abruptly changed in many parts of the country, according to reports on social media and the broadcaster’s managing director, Azhar Abbas, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
The blockage began yesterday, hours before Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Washington, D.C., for an official visit, according to Abbas, who told CPJ that the channel was blocked without any notice or explanation from the country’s media regulator, government, or military.
“The blockage of Geo News just as Prime Minister Imran Khan visits Washington is an unfortunate illustration of how widespread censorship has become in Pakistan,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “U.S. officials who meet with Khan should make clear that these blatant attacks on press freedom are unacceptable.”
Geo News has been repeatedly blocked from broadcasting in recent years, according to CPJ research.
“Geo has bled enormously in [the] last five and half year[s] due to repeated illegal closure of the channel,” Abbas told CPJ, saying that Geo staffers have not been paid in three months, and that this latest block could “potentially be fatal” for the broadcaster.
“It is punished for its editorial policy,” Abbas said.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, which regulates the country’s media, did not immediately respond to an email from CPJ seeking comment. Earlier this month, privately owned news channels Capital TV, 24 News HD, and Abbtakk News Network were also blocked in the country, as CPJ reported at the time.
[Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected in the seventh paragraph to fix a spelling error and include the full name of the Abbtakk News Network]