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News channels of Geo, ARY shut down

November 17, 2007

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 16: The Geo television network said on Friday that it had been ordered to shut down its news channel. The channel beams its signals from Dubai. Late on Friday night, a spokesman for the ARY network called Dawn’s Karachi and Lahore offices, saying that the group had been told to shut down its news channel.

An announcement on the Geo News said the authorities in Dubai had asked the network’s administration to close down its operations by Friday midnight.

The network said no reason had been given for the move. However, a senior member of the network, Dr Shahid Masood, came on air to say that it had apparently been done on pressure from Islamabad.

Shortly before the declaration of the state of emergency on Nov 3, the government had used its influence over local cable operators to pull the plug on all domestic and foreign news channels. These included Dawn News, Aaj, Geo, Ary One World, as well as BBC World, CNN and Al-Jazeera.

This was perhaps the biggest news blackout in the history of Pakistan as for nearly two weeks viewers were deprived of all independent news on private television channels, with only the state-run Pakistan Television being allowed to beam news.

Despite the ban, the television channels that beam programmes from ground stations based in Dubai had continued with their transmissions. Although the channels were not available on cable in Pakistan, they could be viewed either through satellite dish, or outside Pakistan.

Over the last couple of days, however, cable operators had been allowed to air a number of domestic and foreign news channels. But in an unprecedented move on Friday night, the authorities in Dubai asked Geo News to shut down its transmission.

It was not clear for how long the network will have to keep its transmission suspended, but one of the most senior anchors at Geo, Kamran Khan, came on air around midnight to express hope that such a situation would not last long.

Our Correspondent adds from Washington: The United States said on Friday that Islamabad’s decision to ban certain private television channels has troubled it.

“We are troubled by this expansion of restrictions on the media despite our calls to ease the restrictions,” a State Department official said while commenting on the decision.