There were many ways for the government to handle the front page report published in Dawn by the well-respected journalist Cyril Almeida. Sadly, it chose the worst possible option. Now it must pay the cost. No representative government in this day and age can put a journalist on the Exit Control List for his writings and not have its dignity shredded through ridicule, scorn and sheer contempt.
The report described what transpired at a high level meeting at which the civil leadership criticised the military’s policies on militancy. The story was based on anonymous sources which is not a rarity in journalism. Such stories require greater editorial vetting, fact checking and source-verification. Once the story is cleared for publication, and that too on the front page, it bears the stamp of the authority of the Editor. In this case, the Editor of Dawn has categorically stated he stands by the story. This is good enough for us. It should have been good enough for the government and the military. Even if it was not, the government exercised its right to issue a clarification which was duly published.
What is deeply troubling is the government’s ludicrous decision to place Mr. Almeida on the ECL. This is nothing but a brazen attempt to harass and intimidate a journalist and threaten not just his organisation but the media as a whole. It turns out however that the government is incompetent even in its bullying, which is evidenced by the damage it has managed to wreak on its own democratic credibility. It is shocking that after all these years in power, this government displays such scant understanding of media freedom. This raises some very disturbing questions about the capacity of the government to shape Pakistan into a modern, progressive and truly democratic society.
Let it be known to one and all in the government that the media stands united in support of Mr. Almeida and journalists’ right to write. We demand that the authorities remove Mr. Almeida’s name from the ECL immediately and desist from taking any other ill-advised step against the media.