Thursday, November 12, 2009 (The News)
Journalists lead dangerous lives in Pakistan. They are targeted by the terrorists whose actions they report and by politicians and bureaucrats whose failings and indiscretions they expose. All this is to be expected. What a working journalist may not expect, however, is to be stabbed in the back by one of his own, as has recently happened to Matthew Rosenberg, a journalist working for the Wall Street Journal. Mr Rosenberg has been accused in a local newspaper of having links to the CIA and Mossad and of acting in some undefined way as an agent of Blackwater. As if this were not enough to blight his life and career, he is further accused of having ‘secret’ meetings with Secretary Law and Order FATA Secretariat, Tariq Hayat Khan, and Additional Chief Secretary FATA, Habib Khan. Both are said to have ‘fed’ documents to Mr Rosenberg, thereby implicating them in his alleged espionage activities. The story is based upon information from a nameless source and has no supporting evidence. Mr Rosenberg has had to leave the country and is unlikely to be working here in the foreseeable future.
The editor of the Wall Street Journal has rightly and robustly sprung to the defence of his journalist and written to the editor of the newspaper that printed the story. The opening paragraph of his letter reads … “As a fellow editor I am writing to convey in the strongest possible terms our dismay and disgust over the slanderous falsehoods published on the front page of your newspaper on November 5th regarding our reporter Matthew Rosenberg.” We might add ‘grossly irresponsible’ and ‘unprofessional’ to the list of printable adjectives that may be applied to this dangerous travesty of journalism. Accusations such as this, based on information from a single unnamed source are life-threatening in their gravity. At the very least there should one other corroborating source and preferably more than one where accusations as grave as this are made. The electronic media has recently reached a voluntary agreement to ‘clean up its act’; and perhaps some sections of the print media need to do the same.
Condemnation by The Committee to Protect Journalists
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned The Nation for publishing “a reckless and unsubstantiated story”. Last week, Pakistan Media Watch wrote about the incident – in which The Nation published an article with no facts calling an American journalist a spy. Here is what the CPJ wrote today:
Last Thursday, Pakistan’s The Nation newspaper published a reckless and unsubstantiated story accusing Wall Street Journal South Asia correspondent Matthew Rosenberg of being a spy. It’s an accusation that gravely endangers Rosenberg’s safety. Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Robert Thomson responded with a scathing letter to The Nation’s editor, Shireen Mazari, expressing his disgust at the publication of the story, which he called baseless and false. He demanded an immediate retraction.
It’s of course deeply disturbing to us at CPJ that a newspaper would publish a story like this that clearly puts the life of a fellow reporter in danger. But we are also concerned about the source for this scurrilous information, someone the reporter identified as “an official of law enforcement agency, who requested anonymity.” Could this be a deliberate government attempt to intimidate Rosenberg and other foreign correspondents working in Pakistan? That’s a deeply chilling possibility that must be investigated.
In addition, the Managing Editor of The Wall Street Journal, Robert Thomson, wrote a scathing letter to Shireen Mazari conveying his “disgust” over “the slanderous and dangerous falsehoods published on the front page” of The Nation.
Dear Ms. Mazari,
As a fellow Editor, I am writing to convey in the strongest possible terms our dismay and disgust over the slanderous and dangerous falsehoods published on the front page of your newspaper on November 5 regarding our reporter, Mathhew Rosenberg.
Journalism is an important vocation and Pakistan has many fine and courageous journalists who operate in extremely difficult conditions. Foreign correspondents also have an important social role and are similarly exposed to danger from extremists. So for your paper to have suggested, absolutely groundlessly, that Matthew had some intelligence connection was a betrayal of our collective calling and has endangered him, all other Wall Street Journal correspondents, and all journalists and foreign correspondents in your country.
Let me set the record straight: Matthew is an experienced foreign correspondent who has worked for many years covering the region, including Pakistan. In that capacity, he has pursued no other agenda than seeking the truth and has had no other aim than to bring to the world’s attention news and analysis of what is happening in your very important country at a critical time.
Our profession has been done a great disservice by the utterly baseless article, and I call upon you to print an immediate and prominent retraction to ensure that it is widely understood that the piece was without foundation. At present, your paper is is guilty of spreading falsehoods, but it could ultimately be complicit in a far greater tragedy unless this wrong is corrected. We obviously reserve our right to pursue legal action in this instance.