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Old habits die hard: NYT journalist expelled

Updated May 13, 2013

IT seems that the mindset that drives segments of the establishment has not changed from the time that media censorship was in vogue in Pakistan. It is also apparent that some powerful elements did not like what Declan Walsh, Islamabad bureau chief of the New York Times, was writing. Mr Walsh, who was on Thursday told to leave Pakistan within 72 hours due to his alleged “undesirable activities”, has since left the country. Mr Walsh is a journalist of international repute who has covered Pakistan for nearly a decade, previously for the British paper The Guardian, and knows this country well. He has indeed written on sensitive topics such as militant violence and the Pakistan-US relationship, but we agree with the NYT that his reporting has been “balanced, nuanced and factual”. What is more, the authorities failed to provide any reason why they found the journalist’s activities “undesirable” when they delivered his expulsion letter.

The other troubling aspect is the timing of the orders. Mr Walsh’s visa was cancelled at a time when the country was preoccupied with Saturday’s general elections, and those who did not want him here knew this was an opportune time to strike. Previously, attempts were made to deny him a visa extension, but with the intervention of the political government the matter was resolved. It is unfortunate that the caretaker government did nothing to stop Mr Walsh’s expulsion, especially as the interim information minister himself is a seasoned journalist. The powers that be must realise that such efforts only boomerang and work to enhance Pakistan’s image as an unwelcome place for journalists. The media — both local and foreign — must be free to report the facts without any let or hindrance created by any quarter.