A heavy proportion of a state’s survival in the world lies in the spine of a vigilantly orchestrated national security. Few components of this security paradigm comprise of nonnegotiable ribs while others variably revolve around internal “need of the hour” and changing external factors like global politics. Intertwined with the national interests, the national security or defense of a country not only determines the strategic placement of a state but also the capability of a state’s existence in the world. Non-state actors have gained remarkable swaying powers and have reached the intricate lines of defense where clash with the state institutions often ensues. Civil and military establishment are core organs of a firm national security, without the two maintaining a mutual understanding, the national security of a state becomes prone to internal and external breach. National security plan is devised by a state’s civil lung while it is implemented by the security agencies; forming the last line of defense of a country. Leading the list of influential non-state actors is the modern media. Journalistic media (pertaining solely to news and related content being aired or printed) is the point where the “pen” clashes with the “sword”. In the “information age” accuracy and source of any printed or aired material draws upon with skepticism, as media industry is a commercial entity worldwide with agenda of its own. “Information” has become an invisible weapon which in the wrong hands poses a great threat rather than protection of many state interests.
Centric to current and all next generation warfare (4GW, 5GW, Hybrid warfare) would remain to be the elements of “Soft power” and “information”; making media the rocket launcher of this noncorrosive weapon. However, “media” itself is neither a friend nor a foe of any state but the outcome of the content projected by the collective individuals and organizations is what determines the status of its relationship with the matters of state and national security. Lippmann opined journalists as fact seeking movable subjects between policymakers and general public hence terming journalism as “intelligence work” but also suggests that those performing the duty of intelligence gathering can be prone to subjectivity and therefore the news itself is “imperfectly recorded”. New wave of global conflicts and terrorism have resurfaced the older realistic definitions of the terms such as “national security/ defense “, increasing the eminence of a country’s military and other law enforcing agencies which carry out Lippmann’s “ intelligence work “ on a different level but under the wraps of anonymity. Media ,whereas asks the opposite of anonymity from the government in matters of national security but itself is not a credible entity to which such sensitive matters or details can be handed over .
Existence of multiple media outlets and the inter-industry race to produce “exclusives” shadows media’s claim of objectivity and sensibility to analyze the information they receive from their sources. At the receiving end of that particular information is the general public which ; in theory, forms its opinion and transmits it back to the policy makers but public opinion is not a quantifiable factor owing to diverse views on national matters which makes it impractical to let the public give their rulings and suggestions over matters of security. The fog of information that is created by the media makes credibility a serious concern even for the general public. “Credibility is the scarcest resource “in the age of information hence making the task of handling sensitive information a tricky business. Media has the right to information that it obtains from various sources, a constitutional right given to the journalists and general public by the State of Pakistan. But to avoid the complexities that come along with granting of such freedom, PEMRA advices media to cautiously handle news related to the security of the country, with no exceptions made for the governmental agencies and the military. Although, once the media obtains the information, it is most likely to be refined and published at once but media can also choose not to release the information especially if Press Information Department (PID) or Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) are yet to make matters public.
Regardless of the protocol set by the government, it does not prevent the media from reporting the information that can be critical in nature. Many argue that media’s release of information requires an official explanation, hence national security polices in Pakistan often face “media trials “. The supremacy of civil and military establishment by law is above that of the media, hence they are not obligated to provide any statements of clarification; more so when the information is categorized as “classified” or “confidential “. The trust deficit in the military establishment is partially because of the unstable external threats and internal ongoing operations within the country, where leakage of information can cause uninvited trouble. Pakistani media fails to display conscientious and sensible journalistic practices even when it comes to military and national defense policies. Hence it remains largely unaware of how media’s questioning or publishing can impact the situation of national security or a single incident.
Self- regulation by the media could prevent the issue of leakage, if self-analysis of the information obtained prior to the release is made, then it can perhaps lessen the error the media often makes and can be applauded for being mature enough to process the information. The New York Times, in 2007, received information from a source regarding U.S cooperation with Pakistan for safeguarding of nuclear arsenals. Knowing the strained relationship between United States and Pakistan, the paper abstained from publishing the story; keeping national interests of the U.S in consideration .This display of sound analysis earned New York Times an edge with the Department of State. Although, there have been many occasions where Pakistani media failed to perform sensibly but bits of news leaked like those by Dawn News cannot be ignored. Defamation of military by law is a crime, though those involved in Dawn Leaks were not officially charged, yet the media was negligent to reflect upon the outcomes of the published story. National security and related matters like foreign policy at times call for excruciating decisions that need to be made in a short time. As claimed in the story by Dawn, the civil establishment called out on the military establishment to stop its dealing with terrorists organizations, despite the outcome of the story ,none of the sides fully verified the matter, the source remained unclear making the story least credible .
Past August, a helicopter of Pakistani government crashed in Afghanistan’s Taliban –held Logar province where the crew was captured by the militants. Usage of “backdoors” of diplomacy has often been denied by governments around the world but the practice remains and perhaps has become more crucial than regular diplomacy. The crew of the crashed helicopter was soon released when the military made backdoor contacts with the militants, saving the civil government’s dignity at home and abroad. For the sake of national security, its interests and protection of its nationals on foreign soil especially the diplomatic corps, certain “connections” for “intelligence” use is a common military procedure around the world. National defense is maintained by the Ministry of Defense, primarily regulating all aspects of the armed forces of the country while providing needed assistance to the civil establishment. Supporting nation policy narratives is the “make or break “point of a state’s security bubble. Militarily addressing; the “strategic level” focuses on defining and sustaining national defense in both war and peace time scenarios of the country. Military practitioners view that the success of an ongoing or planned operation is dependent upon a well constructed “strategic “level rather than the “operational or tactical “levels of warfare. Strategic level encompasses the stage of planning, preparing and maintaining the national instruments of power, guidance for armed forces to achieve strategic objectives set in accordance to the national security and policy of a state. Breach in national security and its related operations, either by external factors, rouge organizations or media (journalists) results in directly impacting the strategy of the entire national defense. When the media broadcasts or prints claimed stories of national security importance, they often fail to assess the threat to the national security which is extensively dispersed across the country. Lippmann’s view about journalists and their personal incentives or inability to deliver news accurately also mirrors the incentives and gains of the media organizations in a country.
Such leaks or what media considers to be newsworthy and in the interest of the public are seldom half-baked claims made on hints or bits of information and rarely on fully acquired classified documents played in the greater commercial benefit and fame . Information and its protection has always been a challenge for the governments and their militaries particularly those that are prone to threats hence “information operations” (I.O) require vigilant monitoring since it forms a vital part of the “strategic level” and separately earns itself the status of “information warfare”. Media obtains thousands of news stories including those of national security but fails to strike a balance between public knowledge and errant publishing procedure. In 2010 , the cables of Wiki leaks were received by the New York Times which considered the documents significantly newsworthy but made the editorial decision of redacting the identities of any “confidential informants“. The paper, least on its behalf made a sensible editorial decision and tried limiting the reprisal of being negligent of U.S national security and of those performing their duties in the field. Most decisions of “leaking news” made by Pakistani media fall short in comprehending the importance of maintaining symmetry between their responsibility to inform the public and asking state and its agencies for better accountability, which forces agencies to resort to hasher media management and stricter laws- often resulting in a heated clash between the two. With the release of Quetta Commission Report, the media has again been deviating from its actual responsibility and is only fueling the matter more by at pointing the Minister of Interior –who holds another key of the national policy narrative and operates closely with the state’s security agencies. Although the report rises some fair questions but it lacks the understanding of the modus operandi of agencies and their need of secrecy about their informants.
Newly appointed Director General of the Inter Services Public Relation, Major General Asif Ghafoor, will require countering the negative media coverage on various national security issues since claims such as those made by Dawn news or others in the past, however, it is a not a new subject in the history of Pakistani media and its scorn for the military which practically applies the national security on a larger domain. The concept of “strategic” planning and advancement in “information “front outside the battlefields should be prime focus of the ISPR which can give the department the leverage of playing on the offensive position when interacting with the media. Private media’s competition and fears of a story being scooped by other journalists or media outlets often tempts the media organizations to publish a story without due contestation of national security and the link between publishing a story and its “trickle down” effect on state functioning. The question as usual stands unanswered, can the Pakistani media revise its content publication and broadcasting procedures and understand the need to comply with the state’s national policy narrative or will it need to be forced –fed the sensitive concepts of security and media?