Global attention pivoted to Cyril Almeida in Pakistan this week,
immediately after the acclaimed journalist and assistant editor of
Dawn newspaper (founded byMohammad Ali Jinnah in 1941) published his
explosive scoop about “an extraordinary verbal confrontation” between
civilian and military authorities. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s
office complained the story “risked vital state interests,”
threatening “stern action.” Almeida found himself on the “exit
control” list denying international travel. Then he tweeted,
“concerned, possibly convinced, more than 24 hrs after the travel ban
was imposed that govt is planning to take further, uglier actions.”

Amesty International promptly declared “Pakistan’s authorities must
immediately revoke a travel ban on a leading journalist and allow the
media to operate freely and without fear.” The human rights watchdog’s
Audrey Gaghran said “the travel ban on Cyril Almeida is a crude
intimidation tactic designed to silence journalists and stop them from
doing their jobs…the language used by the Prime Minister’s Office is
chilling. It is one thing for the authorities to dispute and
contradict a media report. But it is quite another to threaten a
journalist under the guise of national security.”

The response of Almeida’s closest colleagues bears close attention for
its stark contrast to consistently craven capitulation that has become
the rule for Indian media. Dawn reaffirmed it “handled the story in a
professional manner and carried it only after verification from
multiple sources” then added, “journalism has a long and glorious
tradition of keeping its promise to its audience even in the face of
enormous pressure brought to bear upon it from the corridors of power.
Time has proved this to be the correct stance. Some of the most
contentious yet historically significant stories have been told by
news organisations while resisting the state’s narrow, self-serving
and ever-shifting definition of ‘national interest’.”

Lahore’s The Nation newspaper went further, “a denial, perhaps even
three, were expected. What was not expected – possibly because the
government was incorrectly credited with better judgement – was a
witch-hunt. If the government and military top brass were affronted by
the implication in the report that Pakistan was facing growing
international isolation, they can now congratulate themselves on a
coup de grace that unreservedly confirms this fact…how dare the
government and military top brass lecture the press on how to do their
job. How dare they treat a feted reporter like a criminal. And how
dare they imply that they have either the right or the ability or the
monopoly to declare what Pakistan’s “national interest” is.”

On stage at the Goa Arts and Literature Festival, where Almeida (who
has distant ancestral roots in the state) starred in 2012, 2014 and
2015, the former lawyer and Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University,
persistently made an eloquent case for liberal Pakistani nationalism,
precisely in the mould of the original vision of that country’s “Quaid
e Azam” and primary architect, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. These sessions
left no doubt about his sincere patriotism, in the purest and most
enlightened sense of the term. To audiences here, it was clearly
apparent Cyril Almeida is a national treasure for Pakistan, possessed
of a calibre any country in the world would be privileged to call its

It is characteristic of the weakest, most insecure polities to be
threatened by citizens who love their country with the clearest, least
biased eyes. Almeida himself says, “I don’t write for the sake of
addressing the subjects of my pieces, I write for the readers – people
like myself who are just interested in knowing what’s going on, with
no hidden agendas, no personal favourites, who don’t see too much evil
or too much good in any situation or person or institution.” These
original, best ethics of principled journalism are rarely perceived in
contemporary practitioners, which makes it bleak irony to witness the
pillorying and bullying of Almeida for simply doing his job very well.

There is much gleeful hooting in India about this crisis, as though it
erases its own extensive litany of restrictions, flagrant censorship
and rights violations. Tribal rights campaigner Gladson Dungdung and
Greenpeace’s Priya Pillai have been forced off international flights,
grounded in identical predicaments to Almeida. The Kashmir Reader
newspaper remains banned, about which the Editor’s Guild of India
finally responded “any move to obstruct, infringe or impose a ban on
the press is an assault on democracy itself” but then speedily
switched to lecturing about “fairness and balance.” Mostly, silence
and apathy reigns. It is a thoroughly pitiful track record even -
perhaps especially - when compared to Pakistan.

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