International press decries attack on Rosenberg

Twenty-one international news editors have signed on to a letter to the Pakistan government today. It was addressed to Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira and was drafted by Islamabad’s foreign correspondent community. They were concerned about an article that appeared in Pakistan’s The Nation daily on November 5 accusing Wall Street Journal reporter Matthew Rosenberg of working for the CIA, Israeli intelligence, and the U.S. military contractor Blackwater (now known as Xe). 

Journal Managing Editor Robert Thomson wrote to The Nation’s editor, Shireen Mazari soon after the article had appeared. Thomson said he was disgusted with the story, calling it baseless and false. CPJ wrote about The Nation’s article, too. We called it “playing the spy card” because we have seen this tactic used in other places. It poisons the atmosphere for all journalists, no matter who their employer or where they come from. 

The Islamabad foreign correspondents wanted the letter to be signed by top supervisors at their headquarters because this is a safety issue of paramount importance. As one commenter said recently on the CPJ Blog: “Such a baseless story not only put at risk the life of a foreign journalist but [those] of the local interpreters/fixers/translators who are working with these journalists.” It was not lost on anyone that the Journal’s Daniel Pearl, kidnapped and killed in 2002, was labeled a spy by his captors.

Today’s letter says, in part, “We strongly support press freedoms across the world. But this irresponsible article endangered the life of one journalist and could imperil others. It is particularly upsetting that this threat has come from among our own colleagues.”

And the broader threat is that, if such a tactic is successful in driving one reporter out of the country, why not use it to target more of them? It’s fair to say The Nation represents a strong nationalist position within Pakistan’s political spectrum, a position that grows more widely accepted as violence increases. There have been a few articles supportive of the Nation’s piece and critical of foreign media coverage of Pakistan.

That the threats could spread concerns foreign reporters. “We ask the government of Pakistan to take note of this story and to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of all media personnel in the future,” the letter says.

I reported extensively on the threats to the Pakistani press in Swat and Mingora after meeting with more than 30 journalists in Islamabad and Peshawar in July. Many were threatened and harassed by all sides to the conflict—the military, the insurgents, the criminals who fill the social vacuum when war sweeps away the veneer of civility and leaves fear to rule. Pakistani journalists have worked too hard and have stood up to too many people who wanted to silence them to allow the country to sink into a swirl of unfounded accusations, launched with the aim of intimidation and silence.