Coverage of air crash
LEAVE it to the electronic media to take the low road when it comes to covering a national tragedy. As soon as news of the crash of PK661 broke, the TV channels went into overdrive, vying with each other to provide the most ‘exclusive’ reporting possible. In the process, they jettisoned not only journalistic ethics, but compassion and common sense as well. Even before any significant details had emerged, speculation about that particular plane’s history and the pilots’ experience was being bandied about with no attempt at ascertaining the facts or seeking answers from informed sources. The victims’ relatives were not allowed to grieve in private, their pain and anguish a voyeuristic feast for the nation as media persons posed cringe-makingly crass and insensitive questions to them. Some reports even disclosed, in painstaking detail, the residential address of one of the victims. Then there were the various animated iterations of aircraft flying across television screens and crashing in flames that several news channels found appropriate to air. In short, it was depressing to see the media repeating most, if not all, the egregious errors of judgement it had displayed in its coverage of the Air Blue crash in 2010.
Pakistani electronic media’s penchant for histrionics, fuelled by cut-throat competition for ratings, is by now well established. That is not only in the case of disasters such as the recent plane crash. The coverage of politics too is prey to sensationalism and hyperbole. Moreover, as the media’s influence has grown, some of the channels, instead of being impartial observers of events, have on occasion become active participants, thereby compromising their duty to disseminate information in a fair, balanced manner. For instance, during the court proceedings — since adjourned — over the Panama Papers, the evidence presented was not merely reported on in the news channels, but analysed and dissected threadbare despite the matter being sub judice. The coverage of the issue was in effect a media trial in which judgement was passed even before the apex court could do so. It is also worth questioning what the electronic media decides is worthy of coverage, especially on its ubiquitous talk shows. While politics gets a disproportionate airing, the practical consequences of those politics as they play out in society rarely find space. Raucous talk shows with belligerent guests and a combative ambiance may make for ‘good’ TV but they are not necessarily good journalism.