February 22, 2021

By Rehan Piracha


LAHORE

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists have condemned the attack on Geo TV in Karachi, when on Sunday, a mob ransacked the channel’s office over alleged ethnic slurs made by a host in one a satire show against the Sindhi community.

Protesters broke through the walk-through security gate at the channel’s building, at I.I Chundrigar Road, Karachi South, and smashed the panes of the entry door of the offices. It also attacked the office staff and damaged furniture.

According to Faheem Siddiqui, the Bureau Chief of Geo News in Karachi, the protesters were enraged over comments made by host Irshad Bhatti in his show Khabarnak which had gone viral on social media, adding that the viral video was an edited version and has been taken out of the context of what was actually said in the show.

In a clarification on Geo News, Irshad Bhatti said that his comedy and satire show received a lot of appreciation from viewers from the Sindhi speaking community, adding that some viewers had expressed reservations against a sentence or two.

“I wish to tell everyone this is a program of satire and comedy, and the way Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Gilgit-Balitistan, Azad Kashmir are dear to me, Sindh and Sindhis are a part of my identity. My life is dedicated to Sindh and to Sindhis,” he said.

Sharing a video of the damage caused by protesters to the office, Azhar Abbas, Managing Director News of Geo News, said his organization respected and supported the people’s right to peaceful protest but would not tolerate violence. “Everyone has a right to peaceful protest. We will protect and support that right. But being violent and taking the law into their own hands – regardless of the reason – can’t be tolerated. The answer to all issues is dialogue, not violence,” he tweeted.

Culture of intolerance

Mazhar Abbas, senior journalist, and news analyst, was questioned whether it was criminal negligence or connivance on part of the provincial government and police that the mob of protesters was allowed to proceed towards the channel’s offices despite a ban imposed by the Sindh government.

“On February 15th, Sindh government banned all rallies, protests, processions, demonstrations in Karachi for 60-days as per the decision of the Provincial Apex Committee held on January 25th,” he tweeted. “How come attack on GEO was allowed? Criminal negligence or connivance?” he added that the person leading the protest had still not been arrested.

Mazhar Abbas told Voicepk.net that the attack was a reflection of growing intolerance and violence in the country. “If the protesters had a complaint against the remarks, a few should have come to the office and given their memorandum to the management,” he said, adding that the protesters instead choose to turn violent in a bid to intimidate the staff members.

Abbas said the staff of the channel was still visibly disturbed and fearful of their lives after the incident. He said despite this, the Jang and Geo News staff, have operated in far greater difficult times of insecurity and threat in the city and they were still continuing to do so.

According to the FIR, police have claimed to have arrested 13 suspects. The complainant – the security supervisor of the channel – said the protesters had threatened to kill staff members and clashed with police officials as well. The FIR included offense of spreading terror under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

PFUJ demands govt arrest perpetrators

In a statement, Shahzada Zulfiqar, President of PFUJ, and Nasir Zaidi, Secretary-General, slammed the police and Sindh government for the lack of action against the attackers. “It is unfortunate that the police were present there but they did not prevent the attackers. The police turned a blind eye as the mob ransacked the office besides beating up the staff.”

Speaking to Voicepk.net, Zulfiqar said the PFUJ asked the government to launch a thorough probe into the attack.

“This is not an attack of Geo and Jang but on the freedom of expression. The PPP being the champion of democracy and freedom of expression should take prompt action against the attackers besides ensuring that such incidents do not happen in the future” he said.

Zulfiqar and Zaidi said that the media has already been under siege for some years. The PFUJ said that in these testing times media needed support from political parties and various circles of the society. “lf any party or community has a complaint against any content then there is a mechanism to lodge a complaint and get the matter sorted out but the attackers resorted to fascist tactics to vent their anger,” read the PFUJ statement.

The PFUJ leaders said that they expressed complete solidarity with the Geo and Jang. “We cannot leave the workers of Jang group alone in these testing times and would like to make it very clear that the entire journalist community is behind the workers of this media outlet.”

The Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) issued a statement strongly condemning the violent attack on the Karachi offices of Geo News “by a mob armed with clubs and stones”.

“AEMEND believes in people’s inalienable right to peaceful protest but using violence under the pretext of protest is unacceptable and is a clear violation of the law,” read the statement. The association urged the provincial government to “take immediate action” against who vandalised the media office and subjected its staff to violence.

In his tweet, senior journalist Hamid Mir strongly condemned the attack on the offices of Geo News in Karachi, pointing out that the man leading the protest had the right to protest against anyone but did not have the right of violence.

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