WITH the removal from the Exit Control List of senior Dawn journalist Cyril Almeida’s name, better sense seems to have finally prevailed. In resorting to the extraordinary measure of placing his name on the ECL, the government had set itself on an ill-judged course that would have had a highly adverse impact on this country’s hard-won press freedoms, the independence of the media, and the public’s right to remain informed. Course correction took place on Friday, after a decision taken by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan during a meeting in Islamabad with senior office-bearers of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors. The minister reiterated that in the government’s view, the report over which controversy had erupted was “inaccurate”; the matter also came up during a conference of the corps commanders on the same day. However, this newspaper continues to stand by the news item in question and robustly defend its right to report independently, without fear or favour. The government can, of course, continue with an investigation into where the leaks came from if it so deems fit; Dawn is willing to cooperate in such an inquiry, but reserves its right to protect its sources.
The move had also come as a surprise after the new rules set by the government itself. Originally, the ECL had been envisaged as a way of stopping criminals and crime suspects from fleeing the country in their bid to evade justice. Just last year, the list was found to have names of individuals, for no other reason than, in the interior minister’s words, “to malign them”. The minister then ordered the removal of some 5,000 names. Given this, and the current government’s oft-repeated respect for media freedom, the placing of a journalist’s name on the ECL as reprisal for the publishing of a contentious report was as unexpected as it was erosive of ethical values. Such a misstep must not recur — it must be ensured that the ECL sticks to its original purpose.
Published in Dawn October 16th, 2016