Pakistan television station off-air in some army areas over row with military

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - A Pakistani TV station embroiled in a row with the military over the shooting of one of its presenters has been taken off-air in some parts of the country, cable operators said Thursday.

The defence ministry on Tuesday urged the national media regulator to cancel Geo TV's broadcasting licence after it aired allegations that the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was behind an attempt to kill top anchor Hamid Mir.

Current affairs talkshow host Mir is recovering after being shot at least three times in his car in Karachi on Saturday.

After the attack Geo broadcast comments by Mr Mir's brother Amir Mir, also a journalist, saying the ISI was to blame, triggering an acrimonious response.

On Thursday cable operators said they had blocked transmission of Geo in some residential areas managed by the military.

Pakistan's armed forces run cantonment areas in many cities and towns and have a property arm, the Defence Housing Authority, which provides upmarket housing for serving and retired personnel.

"I have received information that Geo is not being shown in the Defence and cantonment areas of Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Kohat, Hasan Abdal and Peshawar," Sheikh Ijaz, the secretary general of Cable Operators Association of Pakistan, told AFP.

But he said there had been no general order from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to interrupt the channel's transmission.

"PEMRA has not issued any instructions to shut down Geo TV. We will not advise our members to shut down any channel until PEMRA sends us a written instruction to do so," Mr Ijaz said.

An operator in the southwestern city of Quetta said security officials told him not to show Geo in their areas, affecting 35 percent of the city.

"The Frontier Corps and pro-military tribal elders are putting pressure on us to not show Geo at least in the military areas," Babrak Khan, Quetta's leading cable operator, told AFP.

In the northwestern city of Peshawar, a resident in the upmarket Hayatabad locality said Geo had been off air in his area since Wednesday.

No cable operator confirmed a blockade in the country's largest city Karachi, where Mr Mir was attacked.

The defence ministry's letter accused Geo of a "vicious campaign libellous and scandalous in nature" and said the channel was trying to undermine the integrity of an important state institution.

Mr Mir has in the past criticised the Taleban and also Pakistan's armed forces, and media campaign group Reporters Without Borders said he had told it on April 7 that the ISI was "conspiring... to cause me harm".

Pakistan's freewheeling private media has increasingly shown itself willing to challenge the military, once considered off-limits to criticism.

Last month another high-profile presenter, Raza Rumi, survived a murder bid by gunmen in the eastern city of Lahore, in which his driver was killed.

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