Leaked controversy and lessons for journalists -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Leaked controversy and lessons for journalists

Pakistan Press Foundation

ISLAMABAD: The information minister has been shown the door. He allegedly made something known in the breach of national security.

What role he played and how did that compromise the national interest remain unknown. Discretion in interpretation and discrimination in dealing with such breaches are at display.

Whether the story published as outcome of this leak was true or false continues to be contested by none other than the government.Is there any proof to establish his involvement? Jury is still out in search of evidence.

Senator Pervaiz Rashid’s removal is untimely and unceremonial. His departure has been greeted with tears and fears by those acknowledge his struggle and sacrifices for the civilian supremacy.

It has been celebrated by the likes of Imran Khan. However, he is still trying to figure out how to exploit this opportunity.The government’s efforts are afoot in the meanwhile to steer itself out of this crisis which is more existential than Panama Papers.

Timing is quite awkward. The controversial story has emerged when a campaign is already in full swing. Declaring national security risk to the prime minister is intended objective.Who has initiated this move is anybody’s guess. Predicting about the perpetrators on the basis of a pattern isn’t a safe bet.

That Nawaz Sharif is bracketed with Narendra Modi is what we see trending. He has not frequently named Kalbhoshan Yadev, the arrested Indian agent, is marked as evidence.How many times should he parrot this line to prove his patriotism? There are no guiding principles to answer this question.

Publication of the controversial story has only intensified this campaign. The civil-military relations are straining.Other than officers, the ongoing controversy has made villains to civvies in the eyes of soldiers. If they needed any evidence to nurture mistrust on the government, evidence is available.

However, there is no evidence as yet to establish the identity of the leaker. Taking Chaudhry Nisar’s words as a guide, Pervaiz Rashid has not been sidelined for leaking the story.He didn’t try to stop the publication of the story is a charge furnished against him. Considering that the only reason behind his removal, it is no reason to begin with.

An information minister can only clarify official position. He can’t force a journalist into killing the story. Gone are the military rules when newspapers would seek clearance from the authorities before publication.

Pervaiz Rashid was a spokesman of the government; not a gatekeeper of the information printed in a newspaper. This is what he did when the reporter approached him.Instead of appreciating his effort, it turned out to be a crime. His meeting with the reporter was rather presented as evidence.

The controversy sparked by the story has raised many questions. How did its publication breach national security, is the foremost among them.TV channels tend to run ‘leaks’ that are attributed to ‘security officials’. Included among them are reports like the impatience exhibited by the military about the failing of civilians in fulfilling the targets of National Action Plan.

That Rangers will be deployed in Punjab as provincial government has failed to curb militancy is yet another frequently ‘leaked’ story. Punjab Chief Minister’s response, if Dawn report is true, on this much-reported failure shouldn’t have created a storm.

Several examples can be given where reports were leaked about proceedings of one-on-one meetings between the big two or meetings in which their aides also participated. Particular politicians and particular media people have been making startling revelations about the past meetings and future happenings. If they are proved wrong, they used to claim that they were right. Similar situation was witnessed after the press conference by Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan, Sunday.

If the leakers were to be fixed, the exercise would have been carried out across the board in order to remove misunderstandings.

Who can leak and who can’t, is yet another question that must be settled. Some TV channels had reported during dharna days that army chief had asked prime minister to resign. Army chief held off generals who sought Nawaz Sharif’s ouster was published in 2014. No inquiry has ever been conducted about the leakers.

Gen Pervez Musharraf’s book contains information that could have invoked the official secret act had that come from the civilian side.Instead of consuming energies in hunt for the leakers, the government must lay out specific parameters to prevent ‘security breach’ in future.

Keeping these boundaries blurred will only make the problem worse. Trouble will be not only for politicians. Journalists will also suffer.

Other than defining national security parameters, government must frame law to protect the whistle-blowers to balance out what information can be shared without breaching the narrowly defined barriers. Most of the stories are outcome of leaks, unnecessary restrictions will only stop the process of accountability.

Media has enthusiastically followed this episode. That it will land the government in trouble is what they thought. This controversy has pushed the journalists forward to self-censorship is what they have missed.

If the information minister can be fired for his failure in stopping a story, media houses will also be forced one day into sacking reporters in the best national interest. Eternal vigilance, they say, is a price of freedom. The choice is ours.

The News

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