Explicitly highlighting a civil-military rift over tackling certain defunct outfits in the country, an exclusive but controversial news story recently authored by a prominent journalist of the leading national English daily has certainly raised many an eyebrows. A section of the media is strongly criticising the newspaper and its journalist for irresponsible behaviour while publishing this news story. On the other hand, the representative bodies of the press, like APNS, CPNE and PFUJ, have also readily intervened to rescue the beleaguered journalist by trying to convince the government that he just broke this story in the line of duty.

Viewing it as ‘breach of national security’, the military establishment has strongly reacted to this ‘false and fabricated story’. Although the federal government has also ordered an inquiry into this incident, yet it is dilly-dallying over taking any definite or unambiguous position over this issue. The Ministry of Interior first put the name of the controversial journalist on the Exit Control List. But after a short while, the Ministry chose to remove his name from the ECL in face of strong criticism from various media quarters. Moreover, the PM house’s media cell is also being widely speculated as the source of this leaked story.

Journalism essentially revolves around the news. It is all about reporting, editing, transmitting and analysing certain news items. Journalism is a useful tool that helps people keep abreast of all important regional, national and international developments. Similarly, investigative journalism is another important species of journalism. This instrument of journalism has gone a long way in exposing certain crimes, corruption scandals and other foul-play in the society. Through this instrument, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has recently exposed the hundreds of thousands of shell companies and offshore accounts inappropriately held by certain individuals all over the world. In Pakistan too, many investigative journalists have also exposed many mega corruption scandals.

Regrettably, in the name of investigative journalism, some journalists in Pakistan have started doing strange things that are only the hallmarks of yellow journalism. They have been looking for some exclusive ‘inside stories’ all the time. While doing this, they also sometimes become typical paparazzi by unnecessarily intruding into the personal lives of the individuals. Similarly, essentially relying on some extensive instruments of espionage while performing their professional duties, some journalists have also assume the status of full-fledged spies. They are always inclined towards garbing certain exclusive inside stories by employing their spying skills. However, there certainly exists a dividing line between journalism and espionage. A professional journalist should by no means try to dilute this dividing line. Nor should he ever try to cross this line. The case under discussion also involves in some way the similar spying instinct of a journalist who apparently tried to get the minutes of a crucial security meeting held at the PM house.

The so-called 5W’s are ideally considered to be the essential ingredients of the news. However, now some journalists look quite interested in adding some ingredients of their own choosing to make news more sensational and eye-catching. For instance, if a woman gives birth to a baby boy, that is news. However, to these journalists, the news is to diligently disclose the gender of pre-natal baby before the delivery. This is a typical ‘breaking-news’ syndrome. This tendency has been reflected in certain news stories recently appearing in different newspapers regarding the possible replacement of the ISI chief. In fact, similar sensitive matters are extensively debated and discussed in the high-profile security meetings. Sometimes, there are also some heated arguments and exchange of hot words among the participants during the course of a meeting. But obviously, the proceedings of these meetings should never become a subject matter of the news. Instead of the minutes of these meetings, the duly-released information should form the headlines of the newspapers.

The freedom of the press is by no means an absolute phenomenon. It is all relative. This freedom is generally exercised under some reasonable restrictions and limitations imposed by the law all over the world. In Pakistan, Article 19 of the Constitution defines the parameters of the freedom of the press. Among other things, it reasonably restricts this freedom in the interest of the integrity, security and defence of Pakistan. Certainly, like any individual, journalists too are not above the law. Therefore, they should never cross the redlines duly defined by the law of the land.

Sadly, but truly, a considerable section of our media, especially the English print media, and the hostile Indian media are observably on the same wavelength when it comes to maligning our armed forces. Both have always been equally active in openly criticising certain institutional policies and practices of our armed forces. In this context, our past Afghan policy is the major target for such criticism. Both readily blame the military establishment for protecting and sponsoring the militant outfits traditionally associated with the Kashmir insurgency like JuD, JeM etc. So we have recently observed how a news story published in Pakistan against these defunct outfits was excessively hyped by the Indian media. Ironically, their journalistic myopia hardly allows them to view any terrorist activities in Pakistan planned and executed by India through a number of its spies like Kulbhushan Yadav.

Our civilian leadership has been lacking the required degree of resolution and commitment to effectively meet the multiple national security challenges. Resultantly, the military establishment has readily assumed the entire task of securing the country against all sorts of internal and external aggression. From launching the decisive military onslaught against the militants in tribal areas to fighting insurgency in Balochistan, and curbing anti-state political mafias in the city of Karachi; the military has had a central role to play. Thus our armed forces have become the first and last line of our defence. Similarly, our premier intelligence agency ISI has also played pivotal role in the ongoing war against terror in the country. Therefore, criticising and scandalising our armed forced and intelligence agencies would only result in undermining our defence shield against anti-Pakistan elements.

At present, Pakistan is fighting a war on its very soil which has posed a serious existential threat to it. Besides this, both our eastern and westerns borders have become quite volatile. In this situation, the media should play a mature and responsible role to augment our national security, rather than undermining it through speculative journalism. Moreover, journalists must exercise due care and caution while discussing national security issues. Since our armed forces are actively and successfully preserving the physical boundaries, territorial integrity and national sovereignty of the country, therefore journalists should shed their typical more-pious-than-the-pope attitude vis-à-vis country’s national security.

There are a number of media representative and regulatory bodies in Pakistan which should proactively set some professional standards for working journalists. They should play their institutional role to introduce an effective accountability mechanism within the media industry instead of rescuing irresponsible journalists by extending an unqualified support to them. Journalists should act to protect defined national interests after becoming part of the ‘fourth pillar’ of the state, rather than assuming the role of the ‘fifth column’ in testing times.