Elections revealed fault lines in media, moot told
KARACHI: “President Ayub said ‘Strengthen my hands’. Then someone else raised the slogan ‘Pakistan first!’ No. The people of Pakistan come first,” said I.A. Rehman, senior journalist and general secretary of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan at the fourth National Media Conference on Tuesday.
“Where does democracy fit in this country that still hasn’t really come out of its colonial mindset?” he pondered.
“The media should be there to point out the shortcomings and flaws of a government. A parliament should not be allowed to come out with laws to suit the government’s agenda. It is to facilitate the people. But the situation is such that no political party here owns a newspaper. They did try earlier but then realised that the papers would be under their thumb after their coming to power anyway,” Mr Rehman regretted.
“It is the responsibility of the media to educate people about the various party agendas and the working of the government and involve them in a debate about these things. But be careful when doing this, too, for you are not to criticise democracy itself for the wrong things that you see. The people to be blamed for it are the politicians and not the democracy,” he said, while adding that contemporary politics should be made a part of education courses as democracy matures.
The daylong conference titled ‘Media, elections 2013 and new democratic government’ was organised by the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology (Fuuast) at a hotel.
Wusatullah Khan of BBC Urdu Service said he had a lot of faith in the common man. “If you think that the new government will be able to curb the media or the media will be able to manipulate the government then you should know that now there is also the aware common man who has developed his own understanding of what’s going on.
This common man has the ability to take us to good governance,” he said.
Fahim Zaman of Dawn gave a multimedia presentation about what elections should really mean for a country. “You cannot really slice the country into equal parts to make constituencies for elections. It has to be done according to the population. Unfortunately, we don’t have a proper census of our population and ethnicity here,” he said.
Mr Zaman also criticised the media coverage of the elections. “They themselves didn’t understand the procedure of re-polling and confused everyone else, too. For instance only those people who couldn’t vote earlier on May 11 were to vote on May 19 but the media men at polling stations kept reporting about the low turnout at the polling stations on May 19. Well of course, the number of voters the following week was less as most people had already cast their votes. It all boils down to not having trained manpower,” he observed.
Dr Riaz Shaikh, head of the department of social sciences at Szabist, said that Pakistan’s was a service economy and the media was a part of this service economy. “It does little research. But right now, at the time of taking over by the new government, the county is facing a number of issues such as the Balochistan challenge, missing persons, the War Against Terror, etc., and the media and society will have to come on a single platform to take on these problems,” he said.
Dr Tahir Masood, chairman of Mass Communication Department at the University of Karachi, marvelled over how anchors lost face on one television channel only to become bigger celebrities and be offered a job on higher salary by another channel. “Investors and the corporate sector, too, have joined the media to bring in this air of unprofessionalism. Now the marketing department decides what should or should not go in a paper,” he added.
Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed, director of Pakistan Study Centre, the University of Karachi, regretted that these days just about every institution in the country was trying to assert itself. “Meanwhile, anchor persons are still confused about their roles. Film songs are becoming a part of the news. There is friction between media houses. The media raise small issues but fail to focus on the bigger problems,” he said.
Veteran journalist Sheen Farrukh observed that the news channels themselves had started looking like a political cartoon. “They should try to fix faults and the society will itself improve,” she said.
Express News Current Affairs Director Mazhar Abbas compared the elections as Olympics for journalists. “Sadly, we weren’t even ready for mini Olympics,” he said. “No one here worried about how they should carry out the elections coverage. There were no monitoring cells and hence no one even to look into how a channel announced the first election result at 4.59pm when polling was still under way,” he added.
“We couldn’t become the voters’ voice. Instead of guiding them, we were misguiding them. We were not on their side, but on the side of candidates’. Many people in the media election cells were sporting badges of various political parties,” he regretted.
Shaukat Zardari of Sindhi media said that even tickers being run on news channels during the elections were based on who gave the most expensive advertisement to the channel. “Elections can’t be fair unless the media is sincere to the people. A positive change will be brought about then only. It certainly didn’t happen in these elections,” he said.
Mazhar Arif of the Society of Alternative Media was of the opinion that the media had become a crisis-carnivore. “It breeds on crisis,” he remarked.
Senior journalist and poet Mehmood Sham, who is currently the group managing editor of daily Jahan Pakistan, remarked that he had seen many elections in his career, including the 1970 election that broke the country. “They were the fairest elections, but see what happened after them. This is also a ground reality that we have to face,” he said.
About freedom of the press, he said it only worked for the benefit of media house owners. “The rot set in with the dying of the institution of ‘Editor’ during the Zia era when journalists took all the freebies that were on offer. Then the electronic media has become more popular than the print media, because most people in our country are illiterate and can’t read,” he explained.
Karachi University Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Mohammad Qaiser, APNS senior vice president Jabbar Khattak, Acting US Consul General in Karachi Corina Sanders, Dean of Arts Faculty, Fuuast, Dr Seemi Naghmana Tahir, Chairman of Mass Communication Department, Fuuast, Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan and Fuuast VC Prof Dr Zafar Iqbal also spoke.