Freedom Network [FN] calls the violence against the WorldCall office in Karachi as “a thinly veiled attempt to prevent the resumption of access to the transmissions of Geo News TV channel to Pakistani airwaves and to deny the media consumers their constitutionally guaranteed right to know.”
“Setting the office of one of the largest cable television distribution networks in Pakistan ablaze apparently aims at browbeating it against resuming distribution of a popular independent news channel recently fined and banned for a fortnight by the authorities for making allegations that the country’s top spy agency was involved in an attack on its most popular journalist,” FN, Pakistan’s first independent media watchdog, said on 23 July 2014 in a press freedom alert.
The office of WorldCall was set ablaze in Karachi on July 19, 2014 after it resumed formal transmission of Geo News channel via the cable distribution system. The arson attack on the office caused abrupt closure of Geo News channel in several parts of Karachi, the network management and senior journalists said.
It is feared that the action is the result of the network’s decision to resume the service of Geo News, which is still unavailable in many parts of Pakistan despite Supreme Court orders allowing resumption of its as cable operators fear reprisals from forces opposing the return of Geo News to Pakistani airwaves after 15-day suspension by regulatory body – Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).
A report in Dawn newspaper said the police was not sure about the motive behind the attack saying the attack was being investigated to ascertain the identity of the attackers. Express Tribune daily reported four men stormed the office – located in the Clifton locality. Witnesses were quoted as saying that the gunmen forced employees at the office outside and then set fire to the premises. Senior police official Faisal Bashir Memon told reporters that four to six men came to the WorldCall office, unarmed the guards, and set the furniture, fixtures and equipment on fire.
The News daily, a publication of the Jang Media Group which also owns Geo News, reported on July 23, 2014 that the attack was “aimed at preventing the people accessing the TV channel transmissions.”
The Cable Operators Association condemned the attack, with its chief Khalid Arain, saying that the WorldCall office was attacked for relaying Geo News transmission to its subscribers. He said the association had been conveying its concerns to the authorities.
“We had a meeting with Federal Information Minister Pervez Rasheed only on July 18, 2014 and conveyed to him that our members are under serious threat for allowing the Geo News transmissions. We sought security for our members, which was assured by the government, but now this incident has occurred. We told the authorities that there is a public pressure against the cable operators for televising the Geo News for its previous content, and some miscreants are exploiting the situation,” the cable operator association chief went on to add.
When asked whether it was ‘public pressure’ which led to arson attack, Arain said he could not say anything with certainty about the attackers.
Express Tribune newspaper reported WorldCall had received several threats earlier. It quoted the cable service’s employees as saying they had complained about the threats to police earlier, but had received no extra security.
“We are facing multiple threats from various groups, but the government has failed to provide us adequate security,” Arain said, adding that they could not carry on their business under such circumstances. He pointed out another attack on cable operators took place on Friday. “Unidentified men tried to set a cable system in Rahimyar Khan [city in Punjab province] on fire, but police are still unfazed,” he said.
Police have initiated an inquiry into the WorldCall office attack. Clifton Police officer Ghazala Parveen said police officials were trying to obtain footage from CCTV cameras installed in the building and would make composite sketches of the suspects with the help of eyewitnesses.
Since Geo News aired senior anchor Hamid Mir’s family allegation that intelligence agency ISI chief was behind the plot to assassinate him, who survived an assassination bid on him on April 19, 2014 in Karachi it faced tremendous pressure from the military with the Ministry of Defense filing complaint with the PEMRA seeking cancellation of the channel’s license and accusing it of being “involved in anti-state activities.” The channel denies the accusations.
The military is not inviting Geo News to any briefing it gives to media about operation in North Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan and early this month a military commander in Peshawar defended his action to keep Geo News and Jang Group journalists out of the official reception dinner he hosted for Peshawar-based journalists.