Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said it is "appalled" by the move to take veteran journalist and TV anchorperson Hamid Mir off air, terming it "another step towards autocracy" in the PTI-led government's rule.
Mir had said earlier this week that he had been informed by the Geo News management that he would "not go on air on Monday" to host his five-days-a-week show 'Capital Talk'. Sources from the channel's management had confirmed that Mir had been sent on forced leave for some time.
Journalist bodies and human rights organisations strongly condemned the move, terming it an attack on the freedom of expression and press.
Mir, the longtime host of the popular Capital Talk, had just days earlier delivered a fiery speech in Islamabad calling for accountability for repeated assaults on journalists in the country. He was speaking at a protest against the recent attack on journalist and YouTuber Asad Ali Toor.
"Reporters Without Borders is appalled that Hamid Mir [...] has been taken off the air by his TV channel after saying at a protest that those responsible for recent physical attacks on journalists should be identified," the global watchdog said in a statement on Wednesday.
"An autocratic climate is steadily taking hold in Pakistan," it added.
Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's World Press Freedom Index for 2021.
RSF noted that Mir was "suspended summarily", without any form of proceedings against him.
The statement quoted Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, as saying that it was "extremely disturbing that a media group has been reduced to censoring its own star journalist simply because he defended his fellow journalists against violence".
“In his programme, Hamid Mir nurtured the flame of democracy and pluralism in Pakistan with courage and abnegation. His disappearance from the airwaves is another step in this government’s progress towards autocracy,” he added.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Geo/Jang Group said Mir had made a speech "that has resulted in backlash from different segments of society".
"The editorial committee and lawyers will check for violation of policy and law. Meanwhile, ‘Capital Talk’ will be hosted by a temporary host," it said.
Last week, journalist organisations held protest demonstrations against the attack on Toor and growing incidents of violence against journalists. A number of prominent journalists, politicians and civil society activists attended the protest in Islamabad and spoke against assaults on members of the media industry.
In a strongly worded speech at the protest, Mir accused non-democratic forces of being behind the incident and warned of retaliation if attacks on journalists continued.
Toor was severely beaten up by unidentified assailants outside his residence in Islamabad's Sector F-10 on May 25.
The RSF statement also recalled the attack on senior journalist and former chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Absar Alam, who was shot and injured in Islamabad in April, saying "no suspect has been identified in the six weeks since that shooting."