By Masud Alam
Malik Riaz’s marathon live interview on Dunya TV, and the subsequent leak of its off-air bits in which both hosts were shown to be chummy with a guest of questionable reputation they were pretending to grill on-air, was the best thing to have happened to Pakistani media. Well, almost.
The media performs the functions of both the mouth, and eyes-and-ears of its audiences. Here was a chance for the mouth to shut up for once and for the eyes and ears to take in the reality; to look at the image of news media as portrayed by the consumers of media; to contemplate and deconstruct the recent developments, beginning with the ‘whispering campaign’ about a grand plot against the judiciary and culminating in exposing media as a party in the plot; and collectively suggest, agree on, and implement corrective measures aimed at restoring media’s credibility.
Instead, the newspapers started throwing the blame on TV, particularly its talk-show hosts, and the television brayed in its defense like never before. Meher Bukhari attempted the impossible by telling her audiences what they saw in the leaked clips was something that happens in talk-shows on a daily basis and was no big deal really; the real crime was stealing of private moments in the studio, and that is what should be condemned. Her co-host Mubashir Luqman was, however, suspended, apparently for throwing an on-air tantrum during what he believed was a commercial break.
Talat Hussain deciphered the jargon for his audience and explained, frame by frame, how Dunya hosts had trampled every principle and ethic in the book of journalism. He was of the view though, that the unprofessional conduct of a ‘handful’ of media personalities should not eclipse the honesty and professionalism of a vast majority of media practitioners. Hamid Mir did several programmes in which he demanded accountability of all senior journalists, while Nusrat Javeed thundered his prediction that the government was going to use this incident to tighten the noose around news media’s neck and the assorted leaders of journalists’ bodies responded by rolling up their sleeves and vowing to fight back.
Here then is a media just as confused about itself as it is about everything else it takes up. The malaise is much deeper and widespread than the media’s ability or inclination to see and report it. The operating word is not ‘professional malpractice’ but plain old corruption. From a small town correspondent-cum-news agent, to the sub-editor, editor and owner, corruption is rampant in both print and electronic media, and in that respect Ms Bukhari is more right than Mr Hussain, though it makes for a lousy excuse for her own and others’ conduct.
And who is going to hold media to accountability when its own professional bodies have failed in their role as watchdog and have consistently opposed reforms from outside? But accountability was what everyone seemed to want for all of the six days before the prime minister was disqualified by the Supreme Court, and the news bulletins and talk-shows abruptly moved on to the next burning subject.
The leaks failed to bring a positive change, just like the Maya Khan episode, Punjab Assembly’s bill criticising a section of media, and coverage of Karachi carnage of May 2007, and Mumbai attacks failed before it, though all these incidents triggered just as heated a debate on media ethics as seen in the recent days.
Dunyaleaks was an incident comparable to the filming of FC soldiers wantonly killing a young man in a Karachi park. In popular perception killing of innocents at the hands of state functionaries is a daily occurrence, but the video gave the macabre practice a distinct face, a tag to remember by. If not for the two sets of video clips, the conduct of the guilty parties would still be subject of hearsay and unsubstantiated allegations.
All that Dunyaleaks achieved was bringing journalists closer to politicians. The latter have been ridiculed and riled up for their failures and corrupt practices for as long as the private TV channels have existed. It was now time for the politicians to smile and welcome media personalities into the club of the disgraced, and to suggest, tongue in cheek, why doesn’t TV run Indian songs to illustrate the journalists’ wrongdoings?
But the issue of media ethics is already sold last week. It’s going to be business as usual, until the next revelation whenever it comes. And then we’ll start demanding media accountability all over again.