The Pakistani police attack on the popular, independent TV network Geo TV made international news during the weekend. Here in Washington DC, I read a half-page news features in the Washington Post, and was dismayed by this attack by law-enforcers on a reputed media organisation that operates within the law.
The Lahore protests on Saturday followed a clash in Islamabad on Friday in which police fired rubber bullets into crowds, detained key opposition leaders and stormed the offices of Geo TV, Pakistan’s most popular independent network.
The government has generally defended its reaction to the protests as the only way to maintain law and order. But Musharraf apologized for the raid on Geo TV in an interview with the station and indicated that the action had been executed without his approval. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz also visited Geo TV’s studios Saturday to express his regret, and the government fired 15 officers involved in the raid.
But Hamid Mir, the station’s bureau chief in Islamabad, said that was insufficient.
“They wanted to destroy this newsroom,” Mir said Saturday afternoon, his words punctuated by frequent coughs, the result, he said, of inhaling large amounts of tear gas Friday. “They were trying to send a message to the whole media by attacking Geo TV.”
The station was broadcasting live images of the protest Friday afternoon when it was attacked. Journalists filming from the roof reported that police fired rubber bullets and tear gas in an attempt to knock out their cameras. Video footage of the raid showed police smashing in windows and doors inside the building. Broken glass lined the lobby floors Saturday.
Mir said he was encouraged that the media did not appear to be giving in to what he described as government intimidation tactics. “This is the first time the media is showing a lot of resistance,” he said.
There we go again….South Asian governments never seem to learn! We have good friends at Geo TV, and are relieved to hear from them that they are unharmed and that they continue to broadcast. Our thoughts and solidarity are with them, in the weeks and months ahead, when they stand for the public’s right to know and for the freedom of expression.