ISLAMABAD: Pakistan took note on Tuesday of the ‘defamatory report’ published by the BBC world service, and demanded that the story ‘Uncovering Pakistan’s secret human rights abuses’ be removed, with a clear-cut apology being issued.

The official letter has been written by the Director General External Publicity Samina Waqar to the Office of Communications (Ofcom), UK, and the BBC, against the report, which is available in both English and Urdu and was published on June 2. The letter says the “story not only presented a fabricated theme, but also violated journalistic ethos”.

The letter goes on: “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,”, adding that it amounted to “indicting the state of Pakistan for so-called ‘secret human rights abuses’ without any cogent evidence”.

The complaint explains that the Pakistan government expects the BBC to “abide by its editorial policy and journalists’ ethos in the future”, asking that Ofcom look into the content of the ‘mala-fide, incorrect and misleading’ story and take measures as per the BBC’s editorial guidelines 1.2.11 — (Accountability: “We will be open in acknowledging mistakes when they are made and encourage a culture of willingness to learn from them.”)

The letter by the DG EP Wing says that “We demand that the BBC remove this defamatory and malicious story and issue a clear-cut apology. We also expect the BBC to ensure that in the future such fake stories specifically targeting Pakistan will not be disseminated”.

Pakistan has warned that the government has 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”, with the letter saying the content of this story reflects bias, spin and the angling of facts, and that there are judgemental expressions that are a clear violation of journalistic norms of impartiality and objectivity.

The letter is accompanied with an 18-page dossier that includes an annexure responding to all the allegations and states that the ISPR had invited the BBC team for discussion over the topic, but the BBC claimed otherwise. The dossier contains the email communications between Simon Fraser, Asia editor of the BBC News website, and Director General of ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, and also refers to a tweet he wrote on June 3, after the story was published.

The images of email interactions show that Simon Fraser forwarded a set of five queries to the ISPR DG and the reply on April 1 by Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor was: “The expression of your email is highly judgemental ie ‘Pakistan military are guilty of human rights’ abuse’. Before undertaking the story, an interaction is suggested to know the facts.”

However, the reply of Simon Fraser the same day to the offer was: “We’d be very interested to hear your detailed answer to the question below to help us judge what happened. Could you provide please?”

The dossier contains a detailed response to the story, including questioning the BBC’s claim that there was no response to a request for comment from the government. It says no contact was made with the External Publicity wing, the information secretary, the principal information officer or the special assistant to the prime minister on media, in contravention of the BBC’s editorial guideline 11.4.1. It adds that the available government (federal and provincial) stance was not included in the story in a wilful manner, and that the ISPR did not decline to respond to cases highlighted by the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement. The dossier states that representatives of the foreign media, excluding the BBC, have visited Fata 137 times, while the BBC has visited the tribal areas 14 times; domestic media undertook more than 400 visits to the region. Further, it is questioned if the opinion in the story is also shared by the British government, as the BBC is a publicly-funded organisation.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2019