Freedom of me­dia, na­tional se­cu­rity

Pakistan Observer - - FRONT PAGE - Ma­lik M Ashraf Email:ashrafazim2000@ya­hoo.com

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.

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