Media polarisation creates confusion in society
Unprecedentedly high media polarisation in Pakistan has created confusion in society besides doubts about the media’s credibility, especially the electronic media. The level of this polarity is strong enough to evoke extreme media positions on the ongoing political stalemate in a vivid manner. Due to these consistent media positions, even general media consumers are in a position to identify the television news channels that are supporting the PTI-PAT sit-ins and those that are not.
Those who want to see the real, bias-free and neutral picture of the prevalent political scenario are really baffled regarding which channel to watch to get an impartial and professional point of view. Surely it is difficult to see many news channels with extreme points of view and slant on the same issue and then arrive at an opinion while avoiding the impact of media framing.
Sensing the obvious bias of some media houses, many active consumers of television news channels started to crosscheck the information on other media channels. This was the beginning of the credibility gap. When they found an amazing contrast in the coverage of the same issue on different channels, it strengthened their doubts and affected media credibility negatively. Resultantly, the way there was a sudden increase in news channels’ viewership at the start of the protest demonstrations in Lahore, in a similar manner this viewership has decreased after a lapse of more than 40 days.
Many media consumers have turned back to the print media, which is still considered more reliable and trustworthy because a formal ethical code of conduct is followed in the print media before publication of a report. However, in the electronic media the craze of high ratings and the competition to break the news first of all has damaged professional standards. Some news anchors and news channels seem ready to go to any extreme to get better ratings. Hence coming back to newspaper reports, editorials and columns seems very natural and realistic.
Furthermore, the allegations regarding the glittering of money in the electronic media industry, the claim of bribe of Rs 200 million and even more and the alleged support from the secret hands are some other stigma on the face of the powerful fourth estate. No doubt media is giving quick updates to the people and performing its basic function of providing information to society. But what about its mass education and guidance role, which are equally important for a developing democratic country?
According to Development Media Theory, which is applied in the countries having lower economic development and limited resources like is the case in Pakistan, media freedom should be subordinated to provide required support for social, economic and political development. Unfortunately our media houses’ policies mostly focus on their political and economic interests instead of the national political-economic stakes.
The media polarisation started during the regime of Asif Ali Zardari, who in his endeavour to tackle the negative coverage of his government by one particular media group, not only boycotted the group but also supported two other media groups in order to balance his portrayal in the country. Thus three visible media poles were created in Pakistan during his era, including a pro-Zardari regime, anti-Zardari regime and the neutral groups.
The media industry’s growth in the form of private media houses since 2002 was being taken as a very positive indicator for converting Pakistan to an information-rich society, mass education, guidance and strengthening democracy in the country. No doubt media proved itself as a great blessing for the country in the recent past and brought the nation out of many untoward circumstances.
However, unfortunately certain forces in the country seem to be bent upon achieving some gains by targeting and bribing media persons in their individual and organisational capacity. Now it is high time to come to grips with these allegations. Now let us turn towards the true role of media. The required social role of the media is a responsible role to save and strengthen the nation. Surely there is a solution to every problem and the media, instead of becoming part of the problem and flaring up the issue on daily basis through partisanship, must become part of the solution. Only a professional media with a national commitment and the sense of social responsibility as the fourth estate can help bring the nation out of this national political standoff.