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Pak's top media group serves as public pulse indicator amid controversy

August 20, 2011 - Karachi

Pakistan's largest media company, commonly referred to as the Geo-Jang Group, serves as a barometer of the evolving tastes of the growing urban middle class and the power of private television in a country where the military and the mullahs often seem to drive the agenda.

The media group is regularly criticised for using its four domestic television stations and two top newspapers to promote some very different ideas, including Islamist extremism, anti-Americanism and government loathing, The Washington Post reports.

The ruling party of President Asif Ali Zardari, whose alleged corruption is obsessively chronicled by Geo Television, officially boycotts the group and portrays it as an enemy of democracy, and the US Embassy has accused it of fuelling conspiracy theories.

But Geo- the group's signature property- continues to thrive on a blend of rumour-filled talk shows, sensationalist breaking news and dashes of progressive programming, the paper said.

So broad is Geo's reach that the United States subsidises it despite its misgivings.

"We recognize them as... the biggest and most influential media outlet in the country," said US Embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez. "How can we not engage with them?"

At times, Geo has also taken on progressive issues that few politicians are willing to touch, the report said.

In 2006, the network campaigned against Islamic laws equating rape with criminal adultery, a project that even critics acknowledge led to the laws' amendment.

One current initiative urges people to pay taxes, while another promotes peace with Pakistan's archrival India, which could vastly expand Geo's market.

Geo is also the distributor of "Bol," this summer's hit movie that promotes family planning, an explosive idea among conservative Muslims.

However, Pakistani liberals say those campaigns, while positive, skirt scrutiny of the institution most responsible for stoking religious intolerance and hyper-nationalism: the powerful military.

"The private media in general is polishing the military's boots," said Aasim Sajjad, an assistant professor of political economy at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.


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