A lesson or two! -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

A lesson or two!

By Zaheer Bhatti

The electronic media in Pakistan exploded to plurality on the media horizon at the turn of the century, and gave the country the strength of opinions that started to impact beyond the hitherto solitary official media mouthpiece, which no one took seriously until a wake-up call was served to it by the private sector. Multiple channels sprung up and surprisingly displayed far more maturity and objectivity compared to their counterparts in the neighbourhood. While the Indian media, like its government, has been obsessed with almost instantly maligning Pakistan in the mostly self-staged episodes without bothering to investigate, in similar fashion in which the Western press held Muslims responsible for Nine Eleven, the Pakistani media, by and large, and its government, have demonstrated restraint and responsibility for not jumping the gun, despite provocation and credible evidence so as not to needlessly muddy the waters.

Having said that, there is a lesson or two that our new born media ought to learn for its own good. The new channels mostly cater to current affairs programmes, but several of them are exclusive to entertainment, sports, religion, etc. The entertainment channels seem to be going overboard in commercialism, often compromising on their national identity without any qualms of conscience, and it is the leading ones that are the worst offenders. The Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, rather than imposing a Censor Code, has allowed the private sector to self-regulate that places greater premium and responsibility upon them to be discrete and discerning. While there is certainly no harm in drawing upon external cultures occasionally, there appears to be a rat race in projecting all kinds of shows, even movies from India without reciprocity from the other side. It essentially devolves upon the private sector to demonstrate sensitivity to their responsibility as national media, rather than force the government to remind them of it through directives, which is never a healthy sign.

In their programme-mix, most of the channels are still experimenting, and appear to be grappling with how to establish their identity. The news channels, in particular, need to be careful not to indulge too much in caricaturing that takes the bite out of their otherwise serious nature of programming. Of late, most channels appear to be aping each other often ending up in second rate spoofs. Remember, aping is no match for an original idea, no matter how well executed.

The credibility, which is often the casualty in news channels, can only be achieved by staying neutral, unbiased and balanced in their outage. While criticism of the government where due must be made, but making it a fashion is no recipe to establish ones credibility, nor can it be achieved by getting labelled as ‘lifafa channels’ or mouthpieces for the government. One has observed of late, a rather unfortunate trend in some channels working at the expense of a sister channel at the calling of the officialdom, which is, to say the least, most unethical.

One also notices a rather premature stint at on-camera talent hunt with some anchors and a sundry assortment of ladies and gentlemen sitting in judgment, some of whom one has to make an effort to publicly recognise or who themselves need a lesson or two as anchors, participants or experts of sorts.

The trend among news channels in Pakistan, as in some newspapers, to claim being the first with a certain news break, is also something of a rarity in the international media. Besides, newscasters in their eagerness to overtake each other are often found asking the most obvious and invariably untimely questions from the authorities in the event of a disaster or a calamity, when they ought to be left alone to grapple with the situation and effect damage control. Left to me, I would not allow the media to poke its nose, and brief them only when tangible information is available. Questions, such as the nature of blast (whether planted or suicide), how many casualties (injured or dead), where and when shifted etc, are pointless and fixing responsibility is too premature. So, why waste the precious time of the official apparatus disengaging their attention? Much worse is when these newscasters and reporters make comments on sensitive matters, incidents and details for which they are neither qualified, nor should they be allowed.

But there are some news anchors, who take the cake and often end up presenting to the viewer an unbridled shouting bout where no one is clearly audible, which is much worse than what is often witnessed on the floor of Parliament. In these news discussions in which the anchor is either seen helpless, or enjoying, or an equally guilty participant, the viewer in disgust either switches the channel or is seen mumbling some four letter word for the Assembly that often features politicians from different political parties demonstrating their lack of maturity, dignity and intolerance for each other’s views. You often wonder why the producer does not use his power to silence the interrupting entity? One instantly sees the difference when the participants are other than the politicians, where experts and analysts sombrely take their turn to express opinions and offer counter arguments, if necessary.

But this is where the anchor matters – the person, who is supposed to not merely initiate a topic and wind up the discussion, but is primarily required to guide, control and propel it. So, it is for the anchor to ensure first and foremost that he or she is non-partisan, on the basis of which the anchor will command respect to ensure that there is neither stray, nor crosstalk. In their effort to sound, like Tim Sebastian, some anchors are often rude, rather than be discrete and polite, respectful and firm. Meanwhile, the participants are supposed to be honourable people and the anchor has no business to be rude. He must allow them to complete their argument, rather than prematurely interrupt, or cut them short for the Godforsaken ‘break’. Some anchors are in love with their own voice and make long-winded speeches and pass judgments, rather than ask relevant questions. While others operate at the highest octave forgetting that they have a sensitive studio mike, which makes them perfectly audible.

My dear fellows! Just a lesson or two!
Source: The Nation