ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN --To violate off-the-record agreements for information and sources is an ethical violation according to the principles and values of journalism, but it happens alll too frequently in countries like Pakistan where the reporters and editors sometimes still fail to differentiate between on-the-record and off-the-record.
To purposefully use off-the-record statements or sources creates sensationalism and hype among readers. Leading Urdu newspaper The Pakistan Daily Express violated such practice by publishing an off-the-record briefing to senior journalists by the U.S. Embassy. The Daily Express’ Nov. 4 article by Tanveer Qaiser Shahid reported that U.S. ambassador Cameron Munter told journalists in that off-the-record briefing that “the golden era of Pak-U.S. friendship cannot return”
The United States Embassy in Pakistan responded to Shahid’s story by issuing a rebuttal and a request for a correction to reflect that the US ambassador has not given any kind of statement. The embassy’s response was sent to Pakistan press members by e-mail.
According to a Nov. 4 press release from the office of the Press Attaché of the US Embassy Mark Stroh:
“The U.S. Embassy vehemently refutes remarks attributed to Ambassador Cameron Munter in a leading Urdu daily today that ‘the golden era of Pak-U.S. friendship cannot return.’ The Ambassador did not make any such comment. Further, the article overall was not an accurate reflection of statements made by the Ambassador during an off the record briefing given to a group of senior newspaper editors on U.S.-Pakistan relations.”
StinkyJournalism contacted the US Press Attaché Mark Stroh in Islamabad to learn more about the U.S. Embassy’s side of the story. Stroh said by phone: "Everything we're going to say about this is in the press release... It was an off-the-record event, it went on-the-record..so we're reluctant to further publicize it....We had an issue with an inaccurate set of coverage. We don't feel the need any longer to continue to criticize that newspaper.
StinkyJournalism also contacted the Daily Express’s Tanveer Qaisar Shahid, who wrote the story in question, but he also simply refused to comment and disconnected the call.
When Stinky Journalism called the Daily Express’s group editor, Abbas Athar, to enquire about the newspaper’s policy regarding the off-the-record statements, he also refused to comment and cut off the call.
It is also pertinent to mention here that the Daily Express is the only newspaper to publish the sensational quote allegedly from the off-the-record briefing.
Another leading Urdu-language newspaper, the Daily Nawaiwaqat, whose Resident Editor Javed Siddique was also present in that off the record briefing, also published a story on the briefing. However, Siddique’s report didn’t include the sensational quote from the US embassy and the story context was totally different as published by the Daily Express.
StinkyJournalism contacted the Nawaiwaqat’s Resident Editor Javed Siddique, who confirmed this off-the-record briefing. Siddique told StinkyJournalism by phone that it's routine for the U..S. embassy to brief the media and get feedback from senior Pakistani journalists on various issues:
"There was different parts in the briefing and the US Ambassador told to the senior journalists who were present there that if they want to publish any section of the briefing they can do it but after the consultation and approval of the US Embassy Press Attaché because they don’t want to make anything public that can disturb the diplomatic relations of Pakistan and US.”
He said: “It is ethically and morally a worst form of violate to quote the off the record statements and sources, obviously the said briefing was off the record and the section which I have published, it was with the consultation of the US embassy media staff and there was not any kind of rebuttal issued from the US embassy on my story.”
||Malik Ayub Sumbal is a senior investigative journalist based in Islamabad with a professional experience of more than 9 years. Malik is currently the South Asian Bureau Chief at The Los Angeles Post. He has been working for a number of national and international newspapers and magazines. He is also a conflict expert and opinion writer on terrorism and other world issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.