Media credibility and ethics in Pakistan
By Shabbir Sarwar
LAHORE: Commencing with Dunya News off-air video leak last month, the debate on media credibility and ethics has still secured its place in the social circles.
An ordinary media consumer in his discussion at tea stalls, barbershops, hostels TV rooms and other social places, where a varied range of TV viewers have a chance to interact, shows his concern over the media’s credibility in the current situation.
Meanwhile, a large number of current affairs audiences have been shifted to entertainment programmes, like cable TV films, dramas, music and other programmes after losing trust in the news and analysis programmes. A majority of critics believes that overall credibility of the media has been damaged in general and the Dunya News image in particular after the video leak episode.
With the mushroom growth of electronic media in Pakistan during the last one decade, no doubt society has become rich in information, as earlier only the Pakistan Television and newspapers were the main source of current affairs. PTV was launched in 1964, and after 38 years, Geo News was launched and followed by many other news channels.
Where society became information-rich, the issues of media also multiplied. The main reason was lack of training in the media profession, weak governance, weak monitoring and implementation of rules by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which was established in 2002. Unhealthy competition among private TV channels to get TRPs (target rating points) is another major reason, which led the TV owners and controllers to sensationalise events to get viewers attention.
A large number of entertainment media audience shifted to the news media because they started feeling good in watching humiliation and disgrace of corrupt politicians and state actors. However, now a part of this audience had shifted back to TV entertainment programmes.
The media, credibility discussion is also on agenda of media professionals, universities media department teachers and students, intellectual circles and literate media critics. They believe that the time has come to build a consensus among all stakeholders to adopt a code of ethics in a self-regulatory style.
This existing code of ethics prepared by the press consultative body in 1972 was mainly meant for print media and it did not address the issues of electronic media properly, while PEMRA is unable to implement its rules and regulations.
The Press Council of Pakistan organsied a two-day national conference on ‘Media Ethics: Theory and Practice’ on June 28 in Islamabad, which ended as a useless exercise.
Although the theme of the conference was promising and it was meant for discussion on the role of media in strengthening democracy as well as the role of mass communication departments of universities/colleges, role of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), journalist unions, role of the Press Council, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and civil society in media ethics and laws.
However, the conference failed to gain desired results and instead of building a consensus among the stakeholders, a demand was made to establish special courts.
Press Council of Pakistan Chairman Raja Shafquat Abbasi has suggested the establishment of special courts to ensure implementation of media ethics.