THERE are times in a news organisation’s history that determine its adherence to the highest principles of journalism — its duty to inform the public objectively, accurately and fearlessly.

This paper recently reported an extraordinary closed-door meeting between top government and intelligence officials where the foreign secretary briefed them on what he saw as Pakistan’s growing international isolation; following this, there was a discussion on the impediments in the way of dealing with the problem of militancy in the country.

The fallout of the story has been intense, and on Tuesday evening, the government placed Dawn’s senior writer, Cyril Almeida, on the Exit Control List.

While any media organisation can commit an error of judgement and Dawn is no exception, the paper believes it handled the story in a professional manner and carried it only after verification from multiple sources.

Moreover, in accordance with the principles of fair and balanced journalism, for which Dawn is respected not only in Pakistan but also internationally, it twice carried the denials issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Journalism has a long and glorious tradition of keeping its promise to its audience even in the face of enormous pressure brought to bear upon it from the corridors of power. Time has proved this to be the correct stance. Some of the most contentious yet historically significant stories have been told by news organisations while resisting the state’s narrow, self-serving and ever-shifting definition of ‘national interest’.

One could include in this list, among others, the Pentagon Papers detailing US government duplicity in its conduct of the Vietnam War; the Abu Ghraib pictures that exposed torture of prisoners at the hands of US soldiers in Iraq; the WikiLeaks release in 2010 of US State Department diplomatic communications; and Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the National Security Agency’s global surveillance system.

Even more so in Pakistan, where decades of a militarised security environment have undermined the importance of holding the state to account — something that certain sections of the media have become complicit in despite their long, hard-won struggle for freedom — such a furore as generated by the Dawn report was not unexpected.

However, this news organisation will continue to defend itself robustly against any allegation of vested interest, false reporting or violation of national security.

As gatekeeper of information that was “verified, cross-checked and fact-checked”, the editor of this paper bears sole responsibility for the story in question. The government should at once remove Mr Almeida’s name from the ECL and salvage some of its dignity.

Published in Dawn October 12th, 2016

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