Follow-up stories missing from the press
LAHORE: The Pakistani press is poor at doing follow-ups and today’s big stories, like the attack on Malala Yousafzai, will likely be forgotten tomorrow, said Yasmeen Aftab Ali at the launch of her book, A Comparative Analysis of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan, at Nairang Gallery on Saturday night.
The writer, who teaches media law at Beaconhouse National University, said when big stories like the Malik Riaz scandal or the attack on the Swat schoolgirl broke, the media gave it blanket coverage. “But I bet the media will forget Malala as soon as something big happens again,” she said.
She said she felt the need to write the book after reading an article in the Christian Science Monitor about three journalists from two media groups in Pakistan being paid by foreign governments.
Ali said that several of her students had asked her over the years to recommend a book about media laws in Pakistan, but there wasn’t one. “For years I waited for someone to write a book on the subject. And then one day, I decided to do it myself,” she said.
Columnist Raza Rumi said the book came at an important time as a right to information law had only recently been enacted in Pakistan. “This book indeed makes a timely statement on the subject,” he said.
He said that there was a real lack of facts in Pakistani media reports. “There is no culture of data-based evidence in journalism. The media is emulating the impressionistic approach prevalent in our culture. This book certainly will help open doors to access to information,” he said.
Dr Farooq Hamid of The News said that the book comprehensively covered the law with respect to access to information. He said the book dealt in depth with laws for the electronic media, social media and the social responsibility of journalists. He praised Ali for referring to a revised BBC model for media ethics. He also discussed the inaccuracies in news content and cited the Bahria Town case and Maya Khan Case.
Dr Hamid concluded with a few criticisms of the book. He said it was a bit harsh on the electronic media and did not highlight the positive side of the growth of television news. He said the author should have discussed the rights of journalists as well.
Khawar Naeem Hashmi, a veteran journalist currently serving as Geo TV’s Lahore bureau chief, spoke about media ethics. “It is strange to hear academics and veteran journalists say the media is independent, or partially independent. In this country, the media owners, the publishers and the advertisers are independent, but not the journalists working for them,” he said.
He said journalists were underpaid. Most of them had to find other ways to make money. He said many cared more about drawing their salaries than doing good work. “How can one expect fairness or adherence to media codes of ethics in such a situation?”
Hashmi said many news channels did not pay their staff. Some even tried to make money off their staff, like a news channel in Lahore that sold 1,400 press cards for Rs5,000 each. The cards needed to be renewed every six months.
Dr Mehdi Hassan, the dean of mass communication at BNU and the chief guest, said Pakistan needed more women like Yasmeen Ali in media as gatekeepers. He said editorial policies had deteriorated over the last 25 years.
He said many channels were promoting the agenda of a political party or group. “We are buying the commodities of the advertisers, and with our money, the advertisers and the media house owners are promoting their own agendas,” he said.
Afzaal Arshad, the owner of Sang-i-Meel, the publishers of the book, also spoke on the occasion.