Media on media
The media in Pakistan does not yet qualify to be subjected to a Leveson-like Inquiry. Or, perhaps, it does. The Malik Riaz-Dr Arsalan scandal has brought the media at the centre of the controversy. Indeed, it was and is very much part of the story.
Ironically, this time it got involved not for breaking the news but for not breaking it and keeping its silence. Obviously, this was not without reason. Soon everybody and their aunt put two and two together.
Unluckily, that wasn’t the end of the episode. Soon again, in fact only a day after Malik Riaz’s exclusive interview with one private channel, a video of what went off air during the interview was ‘leaked’ on YouTube. All hell broke loose and people even forgot the contents of the interview or what triggered it (was this the intention, one can’t say with certainty).
The virtuous mediapeople conducting ‘planted’ interviews! Now this was an insult to the common people’s intelligence — to say they got to know about an interview being ‘planted’ on television for the first time. Television viewers are intelligent enough to see through the planted content they are fed day after day. It was the act itself, the evilness of the whistleblower’s mind, that gave them a kick and they watched and watched it.
Those who have been at the receiving end of the pious media watched it too — with a sense of cathartic relief. This time the media became the spectacle itself instead of showing it to the people.
But the vested interest is stronger than we think. Soon the entire discourse about the original scandal and the involved media was all about ‘victimhood’ and ‘conspiracies’. The social media that played the whistleblower’s role gave in to the dominant narrative too.
In today’s Special Report, we have tried to discuss the role of media because media, we think, has the potential to set a direction, while maintaining its commercial interests intact. We have focused more on the electronic and the social media because their influence in an illiterate society like ours is huge. We have focused on them because somehow they choose to reinforce ignorance.
We have also tried to raise the question whether news television qualifies as journalism or should we redefine it. Truth is that the way the programming is designed, it is impossible to maintain the ethics that guide journalism in general. Whereas it is easy for a print journalist to maintain his distance from his sources, a television anchor may find it a job requirement to interact with the politician or businessman or industrialist, especially if they are all rolled into one. What was projected as a ‘planted’ interview after the off air leaks could in old parlance be called a ‘scoop’ for the anchor.
All said and done, some media ethics will have to be followed if the media wants to remain credible. The way people jumped at and believed in the PTI-sponsored fake list of ‘corrupt’ journalists and anchors is a wake-up call for all mediapeople. As for what has been actually happening, perhaps we do need a Leveson-like inquiry but, unfortunately, an impartial Leveson may be equally hard to find.