ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Defence sought on Tuesday revocation of the licence of a private news channel and prosecution of its editorial and management teams under regulatory laws for electronic media for allegedly bringing premier spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence into disrepute and harming national interest.

The demands were made in a defence ministry’s four-page complaint to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), which said that the coverage and commentary on attack on TV anchor Hamid Mir last Saturday was not the only cause of grievance, but Independent Media Corporation that runs Geo TV had a history of “false, malicious and irresponsible” reporting.

Head of army’s public relations division – ISPR – Maj Gen Asim Bajwa had over the weekend said that there should be no doubt that legal action would be taken on the “baseless allegations levelled against ISI”.

Pemra, the complaint said, is called upon to take measures on the regulatory side to “i) immediately suspend the licence and after examining the facts, cancel the licence of Independent Media Corporation (Pvt) Ltd granted under Section 20 of the Pemra Ordinance 2002; ii) commence prosecution of the editorial team and management of the Geo under Sections 33 and 36 of Pemra Ordinance read with all enabling provisions and the Pemra rules as amended from time to time.”

The call for cancellation of the licence is based on Rule 15 of Pemra Rules; paras c, g and j of code of conduct, Section 20 (a) of Pemra Ordinance and Section 27 (a) of Pemra Ordinance.

The rules pertain to preserving the “sovereignty, security and integrity” of the country during transmission by any TV channel that has been awarded licence.

The complaint was sent to Pemra late in the evening after intense deliberations over the matter at the defence ministry. A source revealed that the civilian leadership of the ministry resisted registration of the complaint to the hilt, but the military side prevailed.

Information Minister Pervez Rashid, later speaking on Geo TV, stayed short of endorsing the charges framed by the defence ministry and said that since one of the departments had reservations, the ministry was left with no other option but to forward the complaint to Pemra.

When pressed for his comments on the charges, Mr Rashid said the government “would not enter into blame game” till the allegations were investigated.

However, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar took a stronger line on the matter and in a statement issued to media described the “slanderous campaign against state institutions” as unprecedented in the world.

Geo TV’s Islamabad Bureau Chief Rana Jawad said the allegations were levelled by Hamid Mir’s brother and the discussions in subsequent programmes were the personal opinion of the participants of the programmes, which had nothing to do with the media group’s official policy.

He also called for involving other channels, who played up the allegations, in the hearing of the complaint by Pemra.

Two senior members of Geo management were also contacted, but they did not respond to the phone calls and text messages.

Earlier in the day, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif visited the ISI headquarters.

Although the official statement about the visit did not refer to the ongoing controversy, the meeting between the COAS and the ISI chief took place against the backdrop of allegations levelled against the agency.

“On arrival at Headquarters, Lieutenant General Zahirul Islam, DG ISI, received COAS,” an ISPR statement on Gen Sharif’s visit said.

“COAS appreciated the role of ISI towards national security and lauded the contributions and sacrifices of its officers and men towards strengthening the defence of the motherland,” it added.

Iftikhar A. Khan adds: In his statement, the interior minister condemned what he called one-sided and negative propaganda against the country’s premier intelligence agency.

He said the attack on Hamid Mir was a gruesome incident not only for his family and organisation but also for the entire media community and the nation and deserved to be condemned in the strongest possible term.

But the way a national institution (ISI) was being attacked in the context of the incident without any evidence was something alarming.

Chaudhry Nisar said it was unprecedented in any part of the world to make important defence institutions target of criticism and allegations. The negative propaganda unleashed by some circles is resonated all over the world by the country’s enemies.

He said that at a time when the officers and personnel of defence institutions were laying down their lives for security of the country everyday, such one-sided and negative propaganda was not only a matter of concern but also condemnable. Such allegations have no justification when the government has already constituted a three-judge commission to investigate the attack on the journalist.