Media and the 'national interestÂ' -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Media and the ‘national interestÂ’

PEMRA’s latest order only shoots itself in the foot. In the West, where media is free, governments have been toppled and institutions exposed with no damage to the nation.

Trying to do some damage control after the PNS Mehran security debacle, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has leaned on the morally worded journalistic code of ethics and misapplied it on four of the TV channels that covered the terrorist attack. Referring to the open-to-interpretation clauses of the Pemra Rules of 2009, it has redefined ‘nationalism’ to indict said channels for “provoking anti-national sentiments among viewers by sensitising events unnecessarily”.

The Pemra statement goes on to build on this biased foundation by saying that “some news channels were not realising their journalistic responsibility and ethics towards society, institutions and country. Some news channels even went overboard in maligning the role of security agencies, armed forces and state institutions”. The report of one eyewitness, whose deposition was later exposed by the channels as being false, has been mentioned as something that “created undue sensation and hype without verifying facts and realising the grave repercussions that such irresponsible journalism could have on the country.”

After that, the statement gets itself in trouble by claiming that “no media anywhere in the world undermines the integrity of its nation, institutions or its forces or passes aspersions against them”. Had someone in Pemra been ‘responsible’, they would have cut this part out, because in the West, where the media is free, governments have been toppled and entire institutions exposed, with no damage to the nation but a lot of reform in the running of the state.

All over the world, journalism’s fundamental function is the purveying of information and to act as a watchdog. While the media in Pakistan may have its faults, by and large it does understand its function as a monitor on the government’s acts of omission and commission. Lines are drawn on this function in some areas during war – even this has become vague after America’s disastrous Iraq war – and in safeguarding the rights of the private individual. As for nationalism, the latest definition of it equates it with fascism which, in fact, is its highest war-like form. The muffled message is: Don’t report on the armed forces which have traditionally been the buttress of nationalism in the world, before the latter realised that nationalism is a way of seeking internal unity by designating an external enemy and twisting the facts to provoke war.

If anything, Pemra should have reserved some words of dubious praise for a majority of the TV channels who, instead of deadpan reporting, resorted to interpreting the event in favour of the very institution that Pakistan’s parliament wants to hold accountable through a fact-finding commission. These channels leaned on the simple calculus of ‘whom does it benefit’ and came up with the conclusion that India – together with the US and Israel – had done it. As for the prestige of the armed forces, all TV channels, including the ones indicted, called on retired servicemen of all stripes, designated them as ‘defence analysts’ and propagated a view that salvaged the ‘national honour’ threatened by the PNS Mehran incident.

War is when, as Pemra would see it, the media stands behind the state and suspends its primary function of reporting events. The result has been humiliation of the state. However, this humiliation has not resulted in the destruction of the state but its behavioural reform. Politicians responsible for state malfunction have been punished, but that is an occupational hazard which simply strengthens its institutions. Pakistan has always swept the flaws of the state under the carpet to preserve the prestige of its institutions. The Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report was shelved to hide the falling plasters of the edifice of military leadership during the East Pakistan debacle, but the net result of this exercise was a repetition of the same kind of behaviour in what was left of Pakistan. The latest ‘honour-saving’ was done in the silence over the Kargil Operation, which salvaged ourIndia-centric nationalism but delayed our self-correction by a couple of decades. Alas, the distortion and exaggeration still going on in the media is emanating from what we all mistake for nationalism blocking our way to a prosperous and peaceful future.
Source: The Express Tribune
Date:6/5/2011