What would any journalist do in similar circumstances?
You are told that the civilian and military leadership talked behind the closed doors. Civs accused the military of protecting certain unwanted non-state elements. You are told that the civilians got tough, gave a stern message to sort it out, and the meeting was over.
Now you get to your desk and write it… adding visual details and adjectives. Using descriptive phrases like…
“Extraordinary verbal confrontation between Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the ISI DG”
“The foreign secretary’s unexpectedly blunt conclusions triggered an astonishing and potentially ground-shifting exchange between the ISI DG and several civilian officials.”
“Astounded onlookers describe a stunned room that was immediately aware of the extraordinary, unprecedented nature of the exchange.”
When you are done writing, it is no more a news; it is a news-story. You have added something to it, which you might call value addition… but I would call it speculation.
So what next, VERIFICATION?
You do claim to make a few calls. More than one person who was in the meeting tells you that the news is true, but they cannot be quoted about it.
So what do journalistic norms tell you? Do you try hard to find someone comment ON THE RECORD. Or do you just publish the story? Do you try to contact the civilian and military representatives for their version? Or you simply print it and wait for their version to come?
What happens next, an unattributed story goes to the editorial desk. Either you had written it yourself, or the editorial desk decides to play safe – a line is added, “all declined to speak on the record and none of the attributed statements were confirmed by the individuals mentioned.”
Really, are journalists allowed to publish off the record conversations?
The editorial desk must also be aware of the fact that India always blames Pakistan for its problems. The world also accuses Pakistan of going soft with the extremists. Do they consider that such unattributed story would support that version, and hence Pakistan would again get a negative representation?
Does the editorial desk also think what purpose the story is going to serve?
Contents of the meeting were supposed to be known only by those who were present. It was a closed door meeting and not a press conference. So why publish it? Were they discussing anything against the public interest? Hiding which would have been detrimental?
What if you don’t have proofs of a story? All you have is verbal clarification of a few sources – the sources you cannot name, and who cannot testify for you in the witness stand. How do you prove it in a court of law? And is it wise to publish a story which cannot be proved – a sensitive story of that nature?
Cyril Almeida wrote that news story. Putting his name in exit control list can be termed disrespectful to the norms of democracy, but what about norms of journalism?
For the sake of confused students like me, can senior journalists or Dawn’s editorial management explain how this particular story is journalistically okay.
REQUEST: To a journalism student like me, printing this story was not appropriate, but if governement takes any measures against Cyril Almeida or Dawn managament, it would be equally inappropriate.