Freedom of media, national security
THE news report by Cyril Almeida in daily Dawn re garding deliberations of briefing to a high level meeting at the Prime Minister house created quite a stir. The media, particularly the some electronic channels in their bid to outmanoeuvre their rivals tried to read too much between the lines. The editorials and comments in the print media also attributed varied interpretations to the revelations made in the news report. The entire media also expressed unqualified solidarity with Cyril defending his action to have that report published as freedom of expression
A discernible efforts was made to highlight the often trumpeted rift between the civilian and military leadership and to rub in the impression that the story was deliberately leaked to the reporter by the officials circles to malign the security establishment for its alleged support to the militant groups. There was a deluge of comments on the issue without anybody bothering to investigate the matter, paying heed to the sensitivities involved and the impact that it created within and outside the country.
The story undoubtedly was a negation of our national narrative in regards to dealing with the militant outfits against which the government and military claim are being targeted indiscriminately and there is a zero tolerance for the terrorists. It is pertinent to point out that the enemies of the country and some global powers have persistently been trying to project Pakistan as a cradle of terrorism, fomenting terrorism in the neighbouring countries. Blaming the security establishment of its support to militants by the civilian government as the story suggested is indeed a very serious breach of national security as it reinforces the cause of the detractors of Pakistan. Indian government and Indian media immediately picked up the story and unleashed venomous propaganda against Pakistan and the Army. International media also found it convenient to malign Pakistan.
The government and the security establishment rightly felt incensed by the publication of the news report and unanimously decided to have the issue investigated and fix the responsibility for the reported indiscretion. Even this move was misinterpreted as burgeoning cleavage between the civilian and military leadership without waiting for the outcome of the initial probe that had been ordered to ferret out the truth. The removal of the Information minister as a consequence of the initial investigations by the government somehow was also interpreted as an admission of government involvement in the issue.
The haze has finally been removed by the interior minister who was heading the initial probe at a press conference on Sunday. First of all he categorically denied the contents of the news report saying that he was present in all the meetings and the briefing by the foreign secretary in which the reported issue transpired. The inference one can draw from his assertion is that the story was completely fabricated. Who fabricated and with what purpose remains yet to be determined and that task has been assigned to a high level committee of the intelligence outfits.
Now coming to freedom of expression syndrome. There is no denying the fact that in a democratic dispensation or for that matter under any other system of governance the people have the right to know. The freedom of media and freedom of expression derive their legitimacy from this right of the people because the media represent the society. But nowhere in the world media is allowed unbridled freedom. It has its limits and going beyond those limits does warrant intervention by the government because it is ultimately the responsibility of the government to ensure that all entities within the state including media act with responsibility and do not cross the Rubicon. Media is particularly under obligation to act with responsibility in the national interest. All ethical and professional codes of conduct for media at the international and national levels do recognize and emphasize this aspect.
In my view the reporter as well as the editor should have seen through the motives of the source which fed the story and realizing the sensitivities involved should have avoided its publication. Freedom of expression does not mean compromising national interests or jeopardizing national security. In view of the fact unfurled by the Interior minister media is well advised to refrain from commenting on issue until the final findings of newly formed investigative committee are laid bare. — The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.