The Pakistani government on Tuesday filed formal complaints with the British communications regulator and state-broadcaster BBC for publishing a story on June 2 documenting alleged human rights abuses in the tribal areas.

The BBC report published on June 2, titled Uncovering Pakistan's secret human rights abuses, looks into Pakistan's long battle with militants as part of the post-9/11 "war on terror" and carries the accounts of locals as well as the top leader of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), Manzoor Pashteen.

A letter of complaint issued by the External Publicity Wing of the Information Ministry acquired by DawnNewsTV stated that BBC English and BBC Urdu both had published a story which "not only presented a fabricated theme, but also violated journalistic ethos".

"The story also violates BBC's editorial policy by not incorporating the point of view of all stakeholders/citing credible sources/quoting authentic evidence etc," it continued, adding that it amounted to "indicting the State of Pakistan for so-called 'secret human rights abuses' without any cogent evidence".

"The detailed analysis of its content reflects bias, spinning and angling of facts. There are judgemental expressions in the story which are a clear violation of journalistic norms of impartiality and objectivity," the letter said.

The government requested that the matter be looked into for "appropriate action against the author and editorial board linked to the story". Additionally, it demanded that BBC remove "this defamatory and malicious story and issue a clear-cut apology".

It warned that it retains the right to pursue all legal options in Pakistan or the UK if BBC authorities fail to retract the "libellous and defamatory story and take action against its writer".

The complaint stated that the government expects BBC to "abide by its editorial policy and journalists ethos in the future"; that the British Office of Communications (OfCom) will look into the response on the content of the mala-fide, incorrect and misleading content of the story and take measures as per the BBC's editorial guidelines 1.2.11; and that BBC will ensure that "such fake stories specifically targeting Pakistan" will not be published.

Dossier with complaints

A dossier accompanying the letter, which was addressed to both the Ofcom and the BBC, contained further analysis and a breakdown of the government's complaints against it. Additional details and responses were provided to allegations and statements reported in the story.

The dossier also discussed an email interaction with BBC's Simon Fraser which Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor had tweeted about on June 3.

"However, despite ISPR’s offer for a detailed interaction, BBC went ahead with its one sided story in violation of its own editorial guidelines and charter," the dossier stated, listing which editorial guidelines had allegedly been breached.

The government in the dossier listed a detailed response to the story. Below are some key points:

  • The BBC's claim that there was no response to request for comment from the government is untrue. No contact made with External Publicity wing, Information secretary, Principal Information Officer or Special Assistant to PM on Media in contradiction with BBC' editorial guideline 11.4.1.
  • The available government (federal and provincial) stance was not included in the story in a wilful manner.
  • ISPR did not decline to respond to cases highlighted by the PTM, which BBC investigated independently ─ It offered an opportunity, including interaction, to ascertain facts.
  • Representatives of foreign media, excluding BBC, have visited Fata 137 times, while BBC has visited the tribal areas 14 times. Domestic media undertook more than 400 visits to the region.
  • The BBC has tried to manipulate information only about Waziristan, which still is a volatile area.
  • Equating terrorist actions with the state’s legitimate operations is highly misleading. Pakistan went after these terrorists after proofs of their killing and torturing and terrorising the local civilian population, undermining the state writ.
  • Operations in these terrorist-infested areas were only undertaken after ensuring that peaceful civilian population had moved out of the conflict areas and relocated in the temporary displaced person camps. The operations were against the terrorists and not against the civilians who themselves were the worst victims of terrorism.
  • BBC travelled to Dera Ismail Khan to meet the man whose house was hit, but did not avail an offer by ISPR for a detailed interaction, include the official government stance, or approach the Ministry of Information.
  • The 2,611-kilometre-long porous border with Afghanistan cannot be locked down and controlled without security forces physically manning on both sides of the border.
  • The allegation that those who report stories from Waziristan that do not reflect the Army's point of view well are punished has not been substantiated by a single example, quoting specific sources or giving any evidence.
  • The air attack component, wherever used, was only when all population had been moved out from that area. All the airstrikes were targeted against specific terrorists’ hide outs, located away from the inhabited areas.
  • The writer accuses Pakistan of 'successive air campaigns' but did not mention scores of drone strikes in the area.
  • The false claims made by so-called rights activists have not been double checked/confirmed by the federal or provincial governments, a cross-section of public representatives of the region or third party sources. Even the available response was twisted/wrongly quoted.
  • The allegation that Pakistan had an interest in keeping the movement alive to counter Indian influence after the US attacked Afghanistan in 2001 is a biased assumption. Can the BBC or the author quote who divulged Pakistan's interests to them?
  • As the BBC is a public funded organisation, is this opinion also shared by the British government or has it been intentionally included in the story only to taint facts and create misconceptions against Pakistan?

See the entire dossier below: